Both the world and the Church have changed so much in the past 600 hundred years that many parts of the story of Joan of Arc sound very foreign to us today. Yet, despite the obvious differences in culture, there are two things regarding this saint that remain constant–the first is her willingness to respond to God, and the second is her commitment to persevere in that response no matter what the cost.
Joan was the youngest of five children, born into a comfortable peasant family in the region of Domremy-Greux, France, in 1412. Until the age of 13, there was nothing that set the child apart from her peers, nor hinted at the life she would eventually be called to lead. However, it was at this time that Joan began to experience visions and hear the voices of angels and saints, in particular St. Michael, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret. Though at first personal and general, their messages eventually became quite specific and unexpected: Joan was to drive the English from France, and also see to it that the French Dauphin was crowned king.
At the age of 16, Joan finally acted on her visions, seeking first to meet with the heir to the French throne, Charles VII. After repeated attempts to gain access to him, she finally convinced him of her own authenticity by first identifying him in a room of courtiers–though he was in disguise–and then revealing to him a secret known only to him.
Assured by his theologians that Joan's visions and message were not demonic, the Dauphin helped equip the 17-year-old with white armor and an ancient sword. A banner, bearing the names of Jesus and Mary, was also made, at her request, for her to carry into battle.
Before engaging the enemy, Joan demanded that English troops withdraw from French soil. The response was what one would expect; they were enraged at the audacity of this young girl's impertinent command. Moving swiftly, however, French troops, led by Joan, entered the besieged city of Orleans and, by the beginning of May, 1429, had freed it from English control. This opened the way for the Dauphin to be crowned king at Reims in 1429.
Joan continued to fight to drive the English from France, even though the king she had helped reinstate did little to help her. Joan's military campaigning came to an end in 1430, however, when she was captured near the city of Compiegne and sold to the English.
Still smarting from the defeat at the hands of the French–a defeat they felt Joan was responsible for–the English quickly placed her on trial for heresy and witchcraft. This ordeal dragged on for several months, with Joan questioned over and over by both civil and clerical leaders. In the end, she was found guilty of heresy because she wore men's clothing. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431.
In 1456, the so-called "evidence" given at her trial was re-examined by Pope Callistus III; it was found that the verdict reached 25 years earlier resulted from political pressure, and that Joan had been falsely condemned. She was officially declared innocent on July 7 of that same year.
Devotion to her grew during the nineteenth century, and the "Maid of Orleans" was beatified in 1909. A particular inspiration for French soldiers during World War I, Joan was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV and named a patron of France after St. Martin of Tours.
St. Joan of Arc's feast day is May 30.
Sources for this article:
"Saint Joan of Arc." CatholicSaints.Info. 17 December 2015.
Schreck, Alan. "Catholic Church History from A to Z." Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.
"St. Joan of Arc." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.