Joan of Arc’s story is nothing but extraordinary. Born in Domremy, Champagne, in 1412, she was a peasant girl who received from on high the mission of leading France militarily against the invading English.
Joan’s father was Jacques D’Arc, a farmer of some means, and her mother a kind, caring woman. One of five children, Joan was a pious, prayerful and charitable girl.
In 1415, when Joan was three, the English king, Henry V, taking advantage of a civil war between the Dukes of Orleans and Burgundy, invaded Normandy and claimed several cities. Things were going from bad to worse for France when, in the village of Domremy, God began to put in motion a most unexpected solution.
At age thirteen, Joan began to receive visions of St. Michael and Sts. Catherine and Margaret who gently prepared her for her mission.
By 1428, when she was about sixteen, the saints insisted that Joan go to Charles VII, the ineffectual heir to the throne and offer him to lead an army with the objective of repelling the English, and crowning him king. The frightened girl resisted but finally took action on being assured that her extraordinary calling “was God’s will”.
Joan persuaded an uncle to take her to the nearby town of Vaucouleurs to the commander, Robert de Baudricourt. At first Baudricourt and his entourage laughed at the maiden, but when Joan announced that the city of Orleans had just fallen to the English, and the fact was later verified, hilarity turned to respect. Accompanied by respectful soldiers, and dressed in a man’s clothing for her personal protection, Joan traveled to the court of Charles VII who, wishing to test the visionary maiden, hid himself among his courtiers. But Joan promptly picked him out, and set at rest for him an intimate doubt he had secretly prayed about as to his legitimacy as true son of the king of France, Charles VI.
Ultimately, after extensive debriefing and debate, Joan was outfitted with armor, sword and a white-gold standard bearing the names of Jesus and Mary, and an image of God the Father and angels offering Him a Fleur-des-Lys, the symbol of France.
In the company of the Duke of Orleans, other French nobles, and their armies she freed the besieged city of Orleans. To everyone’s amazement, Joan proved an effective general and strategist, though she never personally killed a man.
After other victories, she and her army accompanied the reluctant prince to Rheims where he was triumphantly crowned. But after his coronation the weak king began to haggle with Joan, and ultimately failed and abandoned her.
In a skirmish outside the city of Compiegne, she was taken prisoner and led to Rouen where she underwent an infamous “trial” conducted by a bishop, Pierre Cauchon, who courted English favor. She suffered a long, painful imprisonment, was finally branded a heretic and a sorceress and condemned to burned at the stake. She was nineteen years old.
To the very end she sustained that her “voices” had not deceived her. Her last gasping word was “Jesus!” Although the flames consumed her virginal body, her heart never burned.
What Joan had begun others picked up and France was ultimately freed.
Twenty-three years after her death, Joan’s mother and brothers appealed to Pope Callistus III for a re-trial. This new trial completely vindicated the “Maid of Orleans”on July 7, 1456.