Maybe the greatest person to have walked the planet
Joan of Arc was a simple, illiterate girl living in the depths of the French countryside during the medieval period. She was born apparently on 6 January 1412 and died on 30 May 1431. She was just 19 years old but had played the main role in the most dramatic historical event for her country during her short life. She never knew her birth date or how old she was exactly.
In France, Joan is called Jeanne d’Arc. She was brought up by her father and mother to fear God. She practiced her religion fervently in her village church and entrusted her destiny totally to her faith. At a very early age she claimed to have heard voices from God and some of the greatest saints at a place close to her home. She believed she was being called to lead the French army against the English and the conspiring Burgundians to achieve victory in the city of Orleans during the Hundred Years War. She appealed to the French sovereignty for permission and convinced them. She won a great victory over the English troops at the age of about 17.
Joan of Arc lived in the village of Domremy to the south east of Paris in the Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine region. The village is now called Domremy-la-Pucelle, the Maid, (of Orleans). It all took place 600 years ago but her house and her church are both still very much as they were then and as alive today as ever. Many visitors travel there each year to explore her rural background. Her childhood house, her church and a contemporary museum are all there, right next door to each other. To make a visit is inexpensive at just four Euros but the experience is very humbling.
Her family house where she was born is preserved just as it was, except I assume, for a new roof. It is a spiritual location to visit. View the room where she was born, where she lived with her parents and sisters and where she slept. All of the detritus from the passing centuries has been removed to leave a bare and blank reminder of Joan’s life as a child. The unchanging, surrounding countryside seen from the windows must be much as she saw for herself as she was growing up.
Just next door to her house is the Catholic Church where she worshipped from her earliest years. It still operates and Mass is well attended by local village people each week. The church contains the font where Joan was baptised and is exactly as it was 600 years ago. It is still used to this day just as it was then.
The current stained glass windows in the structure present powerful images of the profound courage and military leadership displayed during her extraordinary life. I attended Mass the weekend that I was there and believe that I occupied the very seat that Joan used during her childhood life. The church also retains recently discovered, but previously walled up, original glass windows from her times. They are what she would have looked at every day.
The museum that portrays her life rests between her house and the church. It depicts in a very contemporary way the events of her short life. It is a parade through her religious and military achievements for visitors as they wander along the indicated route.
Joan of Arc claims to have communicated spiritually with some saints at a rural location some two kilometres from her home. She had identified them as Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch. The last two saints were virgin martyrs who had refused to take orders from men. Joan had always admired what she had known of their history and respected faithfully their words. Joan had dressed as a man to avoid any prejudice as she led the French army into fierce battle at Orleans. Joan had always been treated with derision but somehow, everyone complied with her directions.
The spot where Joan claimed to have had the religious experiences is well preserved to this day. An extremely grand and prominent Basilica was built at the location as late as 1881. Masses are held there every Sunday and great mural artworks portraying her military capacity surround the walls. In the grounds around it, visitors will find impressive sculptures and statues of Joan, the saints that communicated with her and her pious father Jaques, who shaped her childhood upbringing. The Basilica is greatly impressive, features a vast spire and can be seen from miles around amongst the local countryside.
Joan of Arc was ultimately captured in the city of Compiegne at the start of May 1430. She was held by the conspiring Burgundians who sold her to the English for 10,000 Francs.
Her trial took place in Rouen, the capital city of Normandy. She was convicted of witchcraft and heresy by the English and Burgundian authorities at the time. She was sentenced to death by burning at the stake. That took place in the centre of Rouen on 30 May 1431. The English executioners apparently went to much trouble to ensure that her death was as slow and distressing as possible. She was just nineteen years old. Twenty years later, a retrial took place in the same courtroom and found her innocent of all charges.
Rouen marks the event in modern style to this day. Her exact place of execution is marked by a vast concrete cross. Right next door rests a contemporary church to commemorate her. Digital son et lumiere dramatically presents features of Joan’s life on the face of the city’s Notre Dame Cathedral. The vast Excell walk round cinema on the banks of the Seine River flowing through Rouen features a similar, stunning feature. The courtroom where she was tried twice houses an ultra modern, active digital museum that almost brings her back to life.
Joan of Arc was canonised in 1920 and is now a patron saint of France. She has become a living symbol that all French people turn to in times of crisis. Over 20,000 books have been written about her that can be consulted in the library system across France.
A visit to her house, church, museum and the Basilica will always be a great way to reflect on Joan of Arc’s life. The French nation regards Joan of Arc as their greatest patron saint. Many intellectuals actually regard her as the greatest person to have walked on the planet. Her persuasion, unlearnt military skills and undoubted faith in her religious beliefs were extraordinary achievements by one who lived such a short life.