For Catholics around the world, and for the French, the name “Joan of Arc” is one that is not only familiar but also one that evokes lot of emotions and sentiments. A young girl who inspired an entire army to fight, the motivational factor that led to regaining the lost crown of France, and a Saint who fought for her countrymen’s freedom and sacrificed herself at the stakes at the tender age of 19! Besides history, there are several legends, stories, and beliefs that surround this young and courageous lady; often referred to as the “Maid of Orleans”.
Although no one is sure of the exact birth date of Joan of Arc, it is believed that she was born sometime in 1412 or 1413. At the time of her indictment, it is believed that she claimed to be 19 years. However, the Catholic Church celebrates her birthday on 6 January, considered to be the day of Epiphany by the Church.
The confusions with regards to this teenage warrior don’t end there. Although she is popularly known as Joan of Arc, it is believed that she has been referred in different ways in different documents; arousing the question as to her actual name! She called herself “Jehanne la Pucelle” or simply ‘Joan the Maid’. But records show her surname as “d’Arc”, “Tarc”, “Darc”, “Vouthon”, and “Romee”!
Joan claimed that her inspiration to fight for France’s freedom came from above. According to the records made during her final trial, she claimed to have heard these voices for the first time at the age of 13.
Historians and scientists now question her claims of the “voices” and there are skeptics who believe that probably she suffered from a certain form of epilepsy or schizophrenia that caused the ‘visions’ and the ‘voices’.
Whether you believe in her story of voices or not, it is an undeniable fact in history that Joan of Arc led the French army and reclaimed the city of Orleans; and finally led to the crowning of King Charles VII. Little wonder then that France considers her their enduring national symbol that represents unity and the spirit of nationalism.
Joan of Arc was born in the little village of Domeremy, which was under English control. Born to a peasant, she was not given any formal training to read or write. However, her mother instilled in her a great desire and love for the Church; which is what finally drove her to lead the nation towards their freedom.
Joan believed that reinstating the King was her divine mission and had taken a vow of chastity. This has been reinforced by her reference “Joan the Maid”, which also refers to her virgin state. But it is believed that her father tried to get her married at the age of 16, which she prevented through a court order by claiming that she could not be compelled into a marriage!
In an era dominated by men, Joan knew she could not convince men to follow a teenage girl! So she cropped her hair and dressed like men to get them to be serious about her claims and follow her to war.
Joan of Arc was captured by the Anglo-Burgundians in 1430. After a year in captivity, she was threatened into signing a confession that denied any heavenly intervention. But she went back on her compelled confession and was burned at the stakes in the market place of Rouen on 30 May 1931!
Joan’s death only helped to boost her popularity and she attained a mythical status. Two decades later, after a fresh retrial, her name was cleared of “witchcraft”, “heresy” and “sorcery”. She was canonized as the ‘Patron Saint of France’ in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV!