“ I am not afraid. I was born to do this” – Jeanne d’Arc
My heart is built of ramparts;
my vision, an arrow piercing the air,
my bones, a scaffold for the city of me,
a city surrounded
Barely woman, broken soldier,
Warm hearth, divine spark.
An exile crossing a bridge between realms.
No place to lay my head.
Under the apple trees in my father’s garden
I found the truest I, the root
reflected in arch-angelic eyes.
The spire of Domrémy blessed
by light, illumined.
My mother held me before I left for Orléans.
In fields of wheat that swelled like tides
I waded into an ocean
far beyond the front lines.
Far beyond the gaze of her eyes.
I followed the white stag of the forest.
My standard raised to the wind like a sail.
The voice of my kin, became the rustling wind.
Leaves pooled at my feet like small fires in damp kindling.
At night I slept in my armour, as if in a tomb
and felt homesick no more.
By the time they bound me to a stake
and flames lapped at my flesh
I had been long consumed
by an older, brighter fire.
A life lived with meaning
Jeanne d’Arc was born 6 January 1412 to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée, a peasant family, at Domrémy in north-east France.
There was much unrest during this time. A large portion of France was under English domain and the heir to the French crown was in contention.
For generations, there had been prophecies in France which promised emancipation by a virgin from the “borders of Lorraine” “who would work miracles”.
Jeanne was 13 years old when she received her first visions of saints and angels while strolling under the shade of trees in her garden.
Inspired by these visions she cut her hair, dressed in male attire, for protection and under the escort of a local garrison commander Robert de Baudricourt made her way to the uncrowned Dauphin to offer her counsel and support.
At first her presence drew derision and scorn but Jeanne made various predictions about the outcome of several battles and her accuracy brought her to the attention of the royal court.
The story goes that when she was presented to the Dauphin, he feigned to be the King. As a test an equerry was brought to her pretending to be the true King. But she knew that it was not him. Drawn by curiosity, the real king was keen to take a furtive look in the room. But as soon as Jeanne saw him, she immediately recognised him even though they had never met before.
She made the bows and curtseys customarily made to Kings, as though she had been raised in his court . When she had finished her salutations, she addressed the king . “ May God give you long life, noble Dauphin .” The king replied “ I am not the King, Jeanne .” And pointing to one of his lords, he said “ There is the King .” To which she replied “In God’s Name, noble prince, it is you and no other . From this point on, he was convinced that her mission was divinely appointed.
Jeanne stated that she carried her banner in battle and had never killed anyone, preferring her banner “forty times better than a sword.” But her presence and council seemed to contribute to the sudden rise in Frances victories over the English. The most notable of these was the siege of Orléans a strategically significant city.
She went into battle with no other nourishment but the bread and wine of holy communion. She predicted that she would be wounded during the battle but this didn’t deter her.
Although she had never ridden before, Jeanne’s horsemanship while wielding her standard, was commended by all.
Contemporaries acknowledged Jeanne as the heroine of the engagement. She was wounded by an arrow between the neck and shoulder while holding her banner in the trench outside les Tourelles, but later returned to encourage a final assault that succeeded in taking the fortress. The English retreated from Orléans the next day, and the siege was over.
Before this, Jeanne had declared that she would provide a sign at Orléans. The lifting of the siege was interpreted by many people to be that sign.
Jeanne traveled to Compiègne the following May to help defend the city against an English and Burgundian siege. On 23 May 1430 she was ambushed and captured.
Jeanne was imprisoned by the Burgundians at Beaurevoir Castle. She made several escape attempts, on one occasion jumping from her 70-foot tower.
Jeanne was swiftly put on trial for heresy. She was charged with cross dressing and witchcraft. Although she was illiterate she outwitted her prosecutors.
Asked if she knew she was in God’s grace, she answered, ‘If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.’ The question is a scholarly trap. Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have been charged with heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt. The court notary later testified that at the moment the court heard her reply, “Those who were interrogating her were stupefied.”
At her execution Jeanne asked two attending priests, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her. An English soldier also constructed a small cross that she put in the front of her dress.
She was burned at the stake at the age of 19 years.
The executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, later stated that he “greatly feared to be damned”.
A posthumous retrial declared Jeanne’s innocence on 7 July 1456. She was beatified in 1909.
Her last words:
“I pray you, go to the nearest church, and bring me the cross, and hold it up level with my eyes until I am dead. I would have the cross on which God hung ever before my eyes while life lasts in me.”
“One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”
My youngest daughter is named after Jeanne d’Arc. For me, Jeanne is a heroine. A great saint.
She never questioned her path. Her brief life was a sharpened point, a tapered arrow, a tempered blade, that cut through the pretense of the church, the pride of armies and the greed of leaders with the sharp, unwavering sword of innocence and truth.
She was an emblem of everything kingship and religion should be, humble, steadfast, courageous, true. She shone a light, which cast a shadow, exposing the hypocrisy of both church and crown. For that she was more dangerous to either than any foreign army.
But Jeanne was a girl as well as a soldier. When abandoned she wept in fear and despair. She wasn’t unfeeling, steely and battle-worn, she was a tender girl with a heart claimed fully by love of her God. She experienced a full spectrum of emotions; fear, despair, loneliness and deathly sorrow. She was human. But she was also beatified.
She went forth into that great unknown.
She chose fire and death rather than a life bereft of life and the fire which purges and refines as well as consumes. She chose a life of meaning despite the cost.
In other’s Words
“She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honest was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; … she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; … she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation…” – Mark Twain
Although this picture book by Josephine Poole is aimed at children, it beautifully and simply captures the essence of the story with engaging text and enchanting illustrations.