How did a young peasant girl from a small village become a heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint?
Joan of Arc was born in 1412 at Domremy, a small village in what is now Lorraine. Her father was a farmer, with land and a plough team. She was only 13 years old when she heard a voice from God advising her to be sensible and obedient. When the English laid siege to Orleans in October 1428, the voice told her to meet with Charles VII, to lift the siege of the city and to conduct the king to Reims for his coronation.
After a few failed attempts to meet Charles VII she was finally admitted to the royal court and was granted permission to go with the French Army to Orleans and attempt to break the siege. There, she persuaded the cousin of the king to take Orleans by force and, within 9 days, the English departed and the siege was lifted. During the fighting, Joan had clad herself in armour and boosted the moral of the soldiers with her spirit and determination.
The Army then opened a path to Reims where Charles VII was crowned King of France and Joan of Arc was present for the coronation. Unfortunately, less than a year later, she was captured by the Duke of Burgundy and sold to the King of England. Joan was transferred to Rouen where she was accused of heresy and tried by an ecclesiastical court. She was charged in particular with re-igniting the war and was also accused of wearing men’s clothing. Her voices were considered as being inspired by the devil. Her trial lasted several months and in the end she was burned alive in the market place of Rouen. Her sentence was later repealed by the Pope on the 7th of July 1456, following the urging of Charles VII.
In 1869, Mgr Dupanloup, Bishop of Orleans, started the process of canonization. Joan of Arc was finally canonized in 1920 and proclaimed the second patron saint of France in 1922.
Over the years, she has become a popular cult figure, immortalised in books, plays and films, and revered in churches across France. She is a symbol of courage and loyalty to one’s country but I also think that she is a symbol of female equality, long before such a concept was even remotely considered.