On the trail of Joan of Arc in France

Written by on September 12, 2016 in French Icons

joan-of-arc-statue-domremy

Joan of Arc was a simple, illiterate girl who lived in the depths of the French countryside during the medieval period. She was born apparently on January 6th, 1412 and died on May 30th, 1431. She was just 19 years old but had achieved dramatic greatness for her country during her short life. She never knew her birth date or how old she was exactly.

History of Joan of Arc

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 the 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.

Where Joan of Arc lived

joan-of-arc-house

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 the contemporary museum. To make a visit is inexpensive at just four Euros but the experience is very moving.

joan-of-arc-house-room-where-she-lived

The house where she was born is well preserved and is a spiritual location to visit. You can see the room where she was born, where she lived with her parents and sisters and where she slept though the rooms are bare. The mellow countryside seen from the windows must be much as she saw for herself as she was growing up.

church-where-joan-of-arc-worshipped

Just next door to Joan’s 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.

font-where-joan-of-arc-was-baptised

The stained glass windows 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 – both religious and military.

Joan of Arc claimed to have communicated spiritually with saints at a rural location some two kilometres from her home. She 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 and, when leading the French army into battle, Joan dressed as a man to avoid prejudice. The spot is well marked. 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 Jacques, who shaped her childhood. The Basilica is impressive, features a vast spire and can be seen from miles around amongst the local countryside.

Joan of Arc was captured in the city of Compiegne, Picardy at the start of May, 1430. She was held by the conspiring Burgundians who sold her to the English for 10,000 Francs.

Joan of Arc, Saint

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Her trial took place in Rouen, the capital city of Normandy. She was convicted of witchcraft and heresy by the English and Burgundian authorities and sentenced to death by burning at the stake in the centre of Rouen on May 30th, 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.

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 Excel 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 the patron saint of France. More than 20,000 books have been written about her. Her persuasion, untaught military skills and undoubted faith in her religious beliefs were extraordinary achievements by one who lived such a short life.

Bob Lyons is an ex-pilot turned travel writer and self-confessed Francophile.

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