St. Joan of Arc is remembered as a young and fearless military leader who inspired others to goodness and courage. Joan was born in the small village of Domrémy, France around the year 1412 to a family that sided with the Armagnacs during the Hundred Years’ War. At this point in the War, the Burgundians were loyal to the English king and the Armagnacs believed that the Dauphin of France was the rightful heir to the throne.
Joan received little education beyond her mother’s instructions on domestic tasks and prayers. When she was 13 years old, Joan experienced her first vision of a saint. From then on, she also heard voices, identifying them to be from St. Michael the Archangel, St. Margaret of Antioch, and St. Catherine of Alexandria. These voices told her that she was destined to save France and to go on mission to find the Dauphin and have him crowned as king. After meeting with the local lord and traveling through hostile territory, Joan made it to the Dauphin.
“God has sent me, I know what I need to do. Let me go and do it.”
Joan had to prove that her visions and voices were actually from God. During intense questioning from the Dauphin’s theologians, Joan remained poised and determined to accomplish her mission. She declared, “God has sent me, I know what I need to do. Let me go and do it.” Joan set off to the Siege of Orléans, which was the test of her mission. The siege had been going on for months, but 17-year-old Joan led the soldiers to victory in just a few days. After this victory, Joan persisted in her quest to crown the Dauphin and to unite France under his rule. In July of 1429, the Dauphin was crowned King Charles VII.
During a following attack on Paris, Joan was captured by the Burgundians. The English ransomed Joan and began proceedings to discredit the visions and voices from the saints that she claimed to experience. Joan was denied her right to choose legal representation so she defended herself in a trial that dragged on for months. Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvis tried her case and attempted to discredit her through contradictions since he could not uncover anything from her childhood to indicate that she was a witch or heretic. Joan was sentenced and brought to the stake, where they attempted to get her to admit to some of the crimes. Joan was overwhelmed by her impending death and admitted to the charges. However, she later recanted her confessions and was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 at nineteen years of age.
France eventually reclaimed Paris and Joan’s mission was fully accomplished. About twenty years after her death, Joan’s mother and others petitioned the Pope to re-open her trial, and Joan was declared innocent. St. Joan of Arc inspired the transformation of heart and the pursuit of courage and holiness among the most hardened of military leaders, soldiers, and observers. Despite her youth, lack of military training, and the fact that she was a female, she commanded respect and impressed others with her purity and goodness.
Feast Day: May 30