Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Day in Rouen without Jeanne

Did you know Joan of Arc is the patron saint of France? The patron saint! She’s not just your average saint of matchsticks and pyres. No, she’s got the whole country behind her! The French hold her up like a torch leading them to salvation. They’ve made her a blazing example of liberty, equality and fraternity. Oh, the irony of it all. She was captured by a Frenchman, tried by a French bishop, and burned alive in a French city.

It was early in the 1400’s and the English and the French were at war…as usual. The English had invaded France and were pushing south. They had Orleans under siege. It was a pivotal fortress because if they got past Orleans, they could advance quickly into the south.

Joan was born on January 6, 1412 B.T. (before Tyler). Yes, Tyler Roberge, she was born 582 years to the day before you. She is your Saint of the Day! She was thirteen when she began to hear voices (and you, Tyler?). Nowadays we call that delusional. However, at the time, she was quite sure it was Saint Margaret, Saint Michael and Saint Catherine. Micheal, as you may or may not know is the archangel symbolic of carrying the soul to heaven. Catherine’s symbol is the wheel and Margaret is symbolic of dragon slaying. Therefore, we can assume the message they came to deliver was go forward on wheels to slay the English dragon with the power and blessing of the archangel. I believe Joan may have agreed.

At 17 years old, (that’s your age, Tyler), she went to the French heir to the throne to raise an army, (giving you any ideas?). He thought she might be a bit crazy so he dressed up in a costume, hid in the crowd when she arrived and watched to see what she would do. She spotted him right away. Was it the pink bells? We’ll never know but this impressed Charles VII and he gave her an army to lead. She went to Orleans and defeated the English and they had to retreat further North. Then she tried to take back Paris but that didn’t go so well and she was wounded.

About this time she was captured by the Duke of Burgundy, a real nasty bit of work who was siding with the English, probably so he could gain more power. He held her in a tower and she jumped out the window. Now, have any of you ever seen a tower for a castle? They are very high. She was very desperate. She landed and DIDN’T die. This was considered a miracle. I think we can all agree on that point. This miracle, unfortunately, didn’t seem to make any difference as she didn’t escape. The French king, Charles VII also didn’t make any effort to gain her release. The Duke of Burgundy sold her to the English for a large amount of money.

She came to Rouen and was held in chains in a castle here. Pierre Cauchon, another nasty man who just happened to be a bishop, led her trial. (Do you think it is significant his last name sounds like the word for pig in French?) He stacked the jury with his associates and they found her guilty of witchcraft and heresy. She was led through the streets, mocked and shamed. She was then tied to a stake and burned alive. She was nineteen years old.

The executioner picked up her ashes and her heart, which miraculously did not burn. He threw them into the Seine so they could not be worshipped as relics. All right, so her heart was made of, what, steel? Rock? I’m thinking this supports the witch theory but that could just be me. If she was Egyptian her heart would have been weighed against a feather. If it was heavier than the feather she would have been eaten and would have lost out on eternal life. Seeing as how her heart didn’t burn, does this mean something good or something bad? Maybe it’s a good thing she wasn’t Egyptian. But we digress…

So, by 1455 the French had driven the English back again and decided the trial had been illegal and Joan was not a witch. Apparently, while they were burning her an English soldier had cried, “Oh my God! We’ve burned a saint.” Even on the English side there was some dispute as to whether she was witch or saint. This seems to be the case with many women, myself notwithstanding BUT I don’t think this mattered much to Joan anymore. It took another five hundred years for the church to decide to make her a saint. In 1920, Joan of Arc was declared the patron saint of France.