WHO IS ST. JOAN OF ARC? by Margaret Walsh

French Holy Card - Fille de Dieu, Va (Child of
God, GO


What about Joan? (Not, of course, Joan Cusack of the new sit-com fame) but Saint Joan of Arc. She lived 6 centuries ago and yet every year new articles and books, new plays, musicals and movies are written about her not only in France but all over the world. What kind of power does this little girl have? Napoleon, Churchill, de Gaulle, Joan conquered the conquerors!

Today she can still evoke love and enthusiasm . And what is even more interesting is the way that she grabs you and won't let go. Once you venture into her world and are touched by her spirit,---why----I'd say it's almost risky! You just never know what might happen to you!

Take Mark Twain as an example. As he was walking home one day, he found in the gutter and soaked with rain, a page from the trial of St. Joan. He was so captivated that he began a life-long devotion to her, the fruits of which we can read in his 2-volume novel about her. But beyond that, he'd have his daughters play out her life in his living room and when he got very old his daughter reported that he couldn't hear the words of the trial without weeping. He'd say: Listen! These are her very words.

Then there was George Bernard Shaw, whose play, St. Joan, you've probably all seen. He directed that, at his death, his ashes be strewn at the base of her statue erected in his garden. He got in touch with another rabid fan, Ingrid Bergman, and asked her why she hadn't played HIS St. Joan. Never one to mince words, Ingrid told him she didn't like it. He laughed. "Why is that?" "Your work isn't true to the real Joan. She was a good and simple farm girl not insolent smart-aleck who called the King 'Charlie' and referred to a bishop as a 'rare noodle.'" Her candor delighted Shaw and he invited Ingrid to come back and visit with him again.


I promised Mary Plunkett that I would tell you the story of Ingrid Bergman and me. I guess that this would be the perfect time. St. Joan began at her trial by saying: "When I was 13 years old, I heard a voice in my father's garden." ....But no...my story is quite different. When I was 13 years old I went babysitting for aunt. That night, I found this magazine on the table. (SHOW MAGAZINE )

There before my eyes was this striking and lovely figure on horseback in living color. Almost immediately I began to cry. ME! The tomboy! I was anything but a cry-baby. But all the rest of that evening I looked at the pictures of Ingrid Bergman playing Joan; I read and re-read the story and cried and cried some more. What I didn't know at that time was that from that moment on I was a prisoner of Joan of Arc.

I longed to see the movie. Finally the great day arrived and I took the #11 bus to the Town Theater on Fayette Street to see Joan of Arc. The movie had already started as I entered the theater. There was a large close-up of Joan praying in her tiny church in her village of Domremy. "The pity, oh the pity that is of the kingdom of France!" I stood riveted to the spot, almost paralyzed. Finally I made it to my seat and wept through the rest of the film. From that day to this, I have never been the same person. For three days, I could hardly speak about anything except St. Joan. My mom thought I was sick. My husband says that if I kept silence for this length of time, that had to be one of the miracles that counted for Joan's canonization!

Copy of Ingrid Bergman's Joan of Arc ring
from the movie

From that day to this, I began a life-long search for anything and everything that had to do with Ingrid Bergman and with Joan. Then one day while Ingrid was living in Italy during the Rossellini scandal, I found out from Look Magazine that the ring that she had worn in the film, "Joan of Arc" was not just a prop. It had been carefully researched and fashioned from details given by Joan herself during her trial. The article went on to say that the ring had been made up in gold by Cartiers of New York and presented to Miss Bergman as a souvenir. Then, to my surprise they gave out Ingrid's address in Italy. By now you can guess what happened next.

First, I wrote to Cartier's to see if they might make the same ring for me. Oh, yes, Miss Fahey, they wrote me on gold-encrusted stationery, we did, indeed, make the ring for Miss Bergman and will be happy to do the same for you for the sum of $300. At the time, my tuition for The Institute of Notre Dame totaled $90 a year and I knew that I had little hope ot my parents' buying the ring for me.

Not easily discouraged, I next wrote directly to Ingrid for perhaps some direction or a little drawing. Why not? Didn't the article say that she answered her friendly mail? Not long after that her gracious reply arrived. I loved the letter but Ingrid wasn't much help!. I was still not ready to give up. I began to draw the ring as best I could each time that I went to see the movie. I presented my drawing of the ring to a jeweler friend of my mother's and for $36 dollars I finally had my treasure. AND NOW ALMOST 50 YEARS LATER, HERE IT IS just as Joan described it with the words Jesus/Maria engraved on it.

Twelve years later when I was then Sister Mary Jeanne d' Arc, I again wrote to Ingrid Bergman and received a beautiful letter in return. And three years after that I met Ingrid Bergman in her dressing room in New York at the Broadhurst Theater. You can't imagine the shocked expression on her face when I showed the ring to her. She was actually speechless. After I related the ring saga to her, she exclaimed: "You know, I lost mine." For a minute there she thought that I had found it.


During that memorable interview we chatted mostly about St Joan whom Ingrid had adored since her earliest childhood. And she loved her until she died. On her nightstand was a pouch containing soil from Orleans and several books about St. Joan. Now that brings me back to my original question:


Delving into the life of Joan is so exciting because there are so many vivid first-hand accounts of all that she did. Even though she was born before the invention of the printing press, her life is THE most carefully documented of any person from and before her time with the exception of Jesus Christ. Joan's words and actions were faithfully recorded not only in the chronicles of the times but in the records of two separate trials: one being the trial of condemnation which led to her death and the other the trial of nullity or rehabilitation.

The second trial took place 25 years after her death. Desiring to vindicate Joan, declared a heretic at her death, King Charles VII petitioned the Church to scour France for witnesses who had known her. Over 150 people from every stage of Joan's life testified. Her girl friends were in their 40's at the time; neighbors, noblemen, companions at arms and some who had been at the first trial gave their sworn depositions about the now-famous Maid of Orleans. This document is so appealing, so engaging!. Their simple and touching stories of their face-to-face encounters with her give flesh and heart and spirit to that bronze figure on a horse that we are so used to seeing. And as I relate to you the story of St. Joan, you'll hear "voices", too, but they'll be those of the Rehabilitation witnesses.

The conditions of the world into which Joan of Arc was born in 1412 are almost unimaginable to us today. War with England was dragging into its 75th year. Complete lawlessness ruled the land; agriculture became paralyzed and many starved; the black-market flourished in a land where the value of money had sunk catastrophically. A chicken that had been worth four francs one day would cost 40,000 the next. The number of suicides grew daily. This was "la grande pitié" that Joan was praying about in the first scene of the film.

Against this backdrop of misery and despair was born the hope of France. Not a warrior-king, but a very ordinary middle-class girl born unknown on a little farm in Domremy, France--------ordinary in all things save one: her enormous love of God. Here's what one Rehabilitation witness, a friend, had to say: "I often saw Joan the Maid; in my youth I drove her father's plough with her. I have been in the fields and pastures with her. Often when we were playing together Joan would draw aside and speak with God, as it seemed to me; and I and the others would make fun of her. She was so good and simple..." Another witness, the boy next door adds that "She tended the sick . I myself was ill as a child and she came to comfort me. She gave alms to the poor." Many others attest to her generosity to the poor. For me this is a crucial point. It tells us WHY Joan was willing to take upon her young shoulders the awful burden that God was demanding of her. Joan obeyed the voices of her Lord NOT because she had some feminist agenda, not because she was vengeful as she is portrayed in the recent abominable film, "The Messenger." Certainly not because she loved war. She hated it, but she loved God more. She felt the deepest compassion for her countrymen suffering the miseries that I have just outlined above.

One day, a most extraordinary thing happened to this very ordinary girl. Let 's let her tell it herself in her own words from the Trial of Condemnation: "When I was 13 years old, I heard a voice in my father's garden. It was noon in the summer and the voice was on my right toward the church. At first the voice told me only that I should be good and go to church. Later it said to me: 'Go, Child of God, Daughter of France. Raise the siege of Orleans, have the Dauphin crowned at Reims and drive the English out of France.'" Here was a girl, used to helping out on the farm and spinning and sewing with her mother and playing with her friends. She felt completely helpless and delayed doing anything for four years. The Voices became more and more insistent. At last, she enlisted the aid of her Uncle Durand who agreed to take her to see Robert de Baudricourt, the King's representative in their area. Her departure caused some consternation at home and among her friends. Apparently Joan could not bring herself to tell her best friend, Hauviette, that she was going away. Hauviette's deposition is one of the most touching. She related: "I didn't know when Joan went away, but I cried very bitterly about her going. I loved her very dearly, you see, because she was so kind, and I was her friend..."

At this point Joan met one of her greatest allies, Jean de Metz, a knight. He recalls her saying to him:: "I have come to speak to Sir Robert but you see that he cares neither for me nor for my words. Nevertheless, before the middle of Lent I MUST be with the Dauphin, even if I have to wear my legs down to my knees, for there is no one on earth, neither king, nor duke nor princess who can bring help to the kingdom of France."

Joan was provided with men's clothes, a horse and sword and companions to take her to the Dauphin at Chinon. It was a wild and crazy idea, but at that low point in France's history, why not try anything? She had her hair cut like a man's and made the 300 mile journey (the same distance as from Baltimore to Albany.) through enemy territory to see the future Charles VII. At her departure, Sir Robert was heard to remark: "Go, then, Maid of Lorraine and come what may!" Joan encouraged the group to push on through the danger because nothing would happen to them. "For this was I born," she 'd say.

At Chinon she found her Dauphin. When you read about Charles, you begin to wonder whether God was playing a cruel joke on her. This was the future king? The one that she was charged to crown? Without a doubt, among all the players in this drama, Charles VII had to be: THE WEAKEST LINK! Nevertheless, she revered him as the one chosen by God to lead her France. Never did she waver in her loyalty to Charles ---not when he sabotaged her attack on Paris nor even when he made no move to save her from prison and death at the stake.

The first meeting of Charles and Joan one evening in March has been popularized in every play and film about her. And small wonder! This is historical high drama for sure. Joan, herself, describes the scene with the usual exaggerations that she so loved: "There were more than 300 knights and 50 torches'" she exclaimed later on. Even common-sensed Joan had to be awed as she made her in way the vast hall, ablaze with torches and candelabras. There she was in her simple tunic and boyish haircut in sharp contrast to the array of nobles and ladies in their outlandish headgear.

Wasting no time, she plowed right in among them all in search of her dauphin who was not on the throne, but hiding among the women. No doubt, Charles was testing Joan to see if she would know him by some kind of divine intervention. One eye-witness describes the scene succinctly:

"I saw her when she presented herself to his royal majesty; she showed great humility and simplicity of manner, this poor little shepherdess...I heard her say the following words to the king: 'Very noble lord dauphin, I have been sent from God to bring aid to you and to the kingdom.'" The moments that followed this meeting had to be some of the most crucial in the history of France AND of England.

Charles had become a believer on the spot.. Think about it! THIS is the miracle of Joan of Arc-----that a king would send a mere farm girl into battle with his seasoned noble captains and more than that----that he would believe that she had been sent to him by God Himself.

No matter what Charles thought of Joan, no matter how much he may have wanted her to get busy with her mission of saving France, he could not arbitrarily send her off to Orleans. (Consider what happens next to Joan and for that matter all throughout her life and you begin to see why we cherish the notion of separation of Church and State.) First, she had to be examined by a group of bishops and other prelates of the Church. In those days, visionaries and witches , heretics and other assorted ne'er-do-wells lurked everywhere! But Joan was not a patient girl! All of this folderol spelled only one thing: delay! She had already prophesied to Charles that she "would last a year and but a little longer." Why couldn't he see that she simply had to get started? Orleans could not hold out forever.

This mini-inquisition at Poitiers dragged on for weeks. Also, without Joan' s knowing it, the Council engaged a group of women who were to report back to them about how she spent her days. "So," as one writer put it, "Joan was not only cross-examined but pursued by a pack of old, experienced gossips who observed her in every situation."

At last, having been given the stamp of approval by the Church Commission and then outfitted in her legendary suit of white armor Joan left Poitiers for the battlefields of Orleans. It took Joan some time to get used to the 90 pounds of armor, a strange fashion-statement for a girl of 17! (Ingrid's armor weighed 20 pounds.) Even the sword that Joan sometimes carried was frightfully heavy. For that reason and because she never wanted to kill anyone herself, she preferred to carry her banner into battle.

Arriving in Orleans, Joan had to deal with the skepticism and the bruised male-egos of her captains not to mention a rag-tag and ill-equipped army and a hoard of camp-followers. The leaders of the campaign were unsure of the role that Joan was to play.

With her customary energy, she ran off the camp-followers, breathed new courage into the army's flagging spirits, and then sent them all off to confession before they marched in God's army! As for the commanders, Joan quickly won them over. They remained her life-long friends. They were drawn to her obvious sincerity and goodness. And her skill in military matters astonished them. Here are the words of her favorite Duke d'Alençon:

In everything she did, Joan was young and simple; but in the conduct of war she was most skilful, both in carrying a lance herself, in drawing up the army in battle order and in placing the artillery. ...She acted with prudence and clear sightedness in military matters, as cleverly as some great captain with twenty or thirty years experience."

The great battle of Orleans was a long and grizzly affair. Joan tried to warn the English captain to retire to his Island. He shot back insults from the parapet, calling her cow-girl and strumpet and so the battle began early in the morning and was not finished until after eight in the evening. Hundreds were killed and Joan herself was wounded in the shoulder as she had predicted. Her wound was deep and wide and the cross-bow protruded from her back. They treated her on the scene and for a short time she rested and then went apart and prayed for guidance. Meanwhile, the exhausted French began to fall back without their guide and leader. The English fought with renewed vigor, thinking that they had done away with the witch. Joan's commanders wanted to abandon the fight. She disagreed: "You've been with your council and I've been with mine. The council of Our Lord is greater and stronger than yours." The sight of the wounded girl inspired the captains to sound the trumpets and the fortress was taken. The tide had turned irrevocably against mighty England. (PAUSE)

After the battle, Joan walked among the carnage and cried for the souls of all those who had died, French AND English. That night Orleans held a gigantic torchlight celebration as they welcomed her and the army into the delivered city. The throng of admirers pressed in on her trying to touch her and they succeeded in setting her precious banner on fire. They held up rosaries and babies for her to touch. She thought it was funny. "You touch them, she laughed, "your touch is just as good as mine."

Many other victories followed Orleans. It began to look as if the "goddams" were finished. (Goddams was the name the French used for the English since that was the word they most often heard them use.) Joan became an instant celebrity all over the world. Chronicles, letters and especially the grapevine, the main source of information reported her triumphs. The first part of her mission had been completed.

Now came an even harder task-----trying to convince Charles to be anointed and crowned. Once again, Joan prevailed. The ceremony at Reims was a threadbare affair, but for Joan it was a glorious day. She carried her banner during the ceremony.

"It had shared in the toil," she remarked, "it was only just that it should share in the honor." And later in another of her endearing bursts of mathematics, Joan claimed: "I loved my banner 40 times more than my sword."

All mystics speak of the agonies of what they term "the dark night of the soul," that feeling of abandonment by God. Now Joan's voices were strangely silent. Her king felt he had no further need of her. In fact, she was becoming somewhat of a nuisance with all her talk of attacking Paris. He could do better by cozying up to the enemy--- by signing a treaty which would bring him some much needed funds. As George Bernard Shaw had Charles say: "If only she'd be quiet---or just go home." But her mission wasn't finished and she persisted in her drive toward Paris. Wounded in the thigh, Joan was literally dragged off the battlefield crying all the way that the city could have been taken.

Joan's voices had spoken ominously of her capture and that she would last a "year and but a little longer." Time was running out. When Joan was 18 years old, she was pulled off her horse at Compiègne by a Burgundian archer and the Maid of Orleans became a prisoner. Word of her capture spread like wildfire everywhere. All of France prayed for their liberator. Only her beloved king did nothing—never made a move to save her. He stood by as she was sold to the English for a king's ransom and delivered over to Pierre Cauchon, Count Bishop of Beauvais, An English collaborator from way back, Cauchon was to see to it that this witch and heretic who had supported Charles VII's false claim to the throne of France be brought low in front of the whole world. As his reward, Cauchon expected to be consecrated Bishop of Rouen.

The little girl who delighted in the fields of Domremy would spend one whole year as a prisoner. The curious were permitted to gawk at the helpless captive in chains. Various noblemen and clergy dropped by to taunt her. One of the lords promised to ransom her if she vowed never to attack the Burgundians again. She shot back with her characteristic vigor intact: "I know very well that the English intend to kill me and think that after my death they can take the whole kingdom of France. But even if another hundred thousand goddams come, they will never be able to take France!" At that, an Englishman drew his sword to kill her but was checked by the Earl of Warwick, whose business it was keep her alive for her up-coming trial.

Vicious and crude English guards remained in her cell at all times and routinely brutalized her and prevented her from sleeping. Her only consolation came from the voices of her Lord who visited her daily in her cell. By the winter of 1431, Cauchon was ready to begin his "flawless trial" as he called it. The format was that of the infamous inquisition. Never, however, did he count on the wit, the intelligence and the pluck of the little girl from the farm. There he sat pompously in his ermine robes, surrounded by 40 theologians, assessors and judges, mostly hand-picked for the job. How could this country bumpkin who admitted that she didn't know "a" from "b" hold her own against such odds? But just as he was about to set his "flawless trial" into motion, Joan ambushed him with a quiet refusal to take the inital oath.

Do you swear to tell the truth in all that we shall ask you? asked the bailiff.

My Lord, she murmured politely, I don't know what your questions will be. Maybe you'll ask me things I can't answer. Consternation and confusion reigned in the learned assembly. Cauchon was stunned, disarmed. To Joan it was simple logic: how could she do something that her voices had apparently forbidden her to do? What Pierre Cauchon had envisioned as a one-two punch, an easy knock-out, turned out to be an endless match that left both contenders bruised and bloodied. She had a block, a clever dodge at every turn; she danced deftly around the thorniest issue; and when the judges retired to their corner for relaxation and a bountiful dinner, Joan returned to her cell for another round with her tormentors.

The minutes of the trial record memorable sparring like the following samples: What did St. Michael look like? Was he naked? Do you think that God doesn't have the wherewithal to give him clothes? Did he have hair? Why would it have been cut off? And then there's this loaded question fraught with danger: Do you feel that you are in the state of grace? If I am not, may God put me there and if I am, may He keep me there. How's this ione for an early feminist view?

Joan, how come you don't busy yourself with sewing and spinning like the rest of women?

There are plenty of them to do that work! Cauchon badgered his prisoner; awakened her in the night to question her and returned relentlessly to the same questions over and over. He said it was sinful to wear men's clothing. Joan wore it since it was her sole protection from the advances of her guards. Joan saw through Cauchon's most clever traps. Asked if she would submit to the Church, meaning deny that her voices came from God, she retorted correctly: YOU are not the Church/. You are my mortal enemies. Dieu premier servi. God must be served first! Her captors kept her in a civil prison surrounded by the lowest sort of jailers. This went contrary to the law that required her to be protected in a Church prison and guarded by women. Joan's pitiful complaints fell on deaf ears.

When it seemed that nothing was going to break her, Cauchon had the kindly doctors of the Church vote on whether or not to torture an abjuration out of her. She was dragged into the room and shown the instruments of torture. She cried out:

If you tear me limb from limb and separate my soul from my body, I will not deny my voices. And if I had done such a thing, I would always declare afterwards that you had compelled me to say it by force.

Finally, on May 30, 1431 Joan was told that she would be burned at the stake as a heretic and apostate. Furthermore, she was to be excommunicated from the church that she loved. She begged Cauchon to allow her to receive Holy Communion which she had been denied all through the trial. In a most unorthodox and contradictory move, the bishop told one of the priests: Give her anything she asks for. Cauchon knew that even though Joan would die at the stake, he had lost the match. He had compromised everything. He never became bishop of Rouen.

The executioner never got over the cruelty of Joan of Arc's death. The stake in the old market place in Rouen had been ordered placed so high that the poor victim, instead of dying quickly of smoke inhalation had to endure the licking of the flames until they consumed her. She begged for a cross so that she might have the image of her Lord before her eyes until she died. Six times Joan cried out the name of Jesus.

Fearing that the people would want relics, Cauchon ordered her ashes thrown into the Seine River. Now, years afterwards, every May 30th, young girls dressed in white gowns, strew flowers on the waters that flow through Normandy. Joan of Arc's dying wish was to be buried in consecrated ground.

That being denied her, it was she who sanctified the French soil wherever the River Seine flows. Oh, happy France, to be thus honored! The Trial of Rehabilitation cleared Joan's name and in 1920 she was declared a saint.

by Margaret Walsh
May 6th, 2001 'talk' given at "The Nativity" Parish of Towson, Maryland - THE LADIES CLUB

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