Rouen, France: Saint Joan of Arc “The Maid of Orleans”
The story of Joan of Arc:
Probably one of the most improbable stories in history. An ignorant, illiterate peasant girl, born in times when people never rose above their station in life (especially not women), became the leader of a demoralized French army and through that leadership, defeated the English. It is a story that is truly “stranger than fiction” and shows how all things are possible with God.
Joan was born on January 6, 1412 in the Lorraine village of Domremy. Joan was ‘like all the others’ in her village until her thirteenth year. “When I was about thirteen, I received revelation from Our Lord by a voice which told me to be good and attend church often and that God would help me.” She stated that her ‘Voices’ were Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. At first her ‘Voices’ came to her two or three times a week but as the time for her mission drew near (five years later), they visited her daily telling her to ‘Go into France’ to raise the siege of Orleans, conduct the Dauphin Charles to Rheims for his crowning and to drive the English from the land.
The story is much more complicated than this, but the short version is that Joan persuaded the military commandant of the town that she, an illiterate teenage shepherdess, was actually an ambassador of God. She departed with a handful of companions on her mission, and on May 8, 1429 Joan drove the English troops from Orleans and from there, victory followed victory until the English were defeated.
Joan of Arc went to Rheims for the coronation of the dauphin Charles in July of 1429. In May 1430, as she was attempting to relieve Compiegne, she was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English.
Regrettably, Charles and the French did nothing to save her. After months of imprisonment, she was tried at Rouen by a tribunal presided over by the infamous Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, who hoped that the English would help him to become archbishop. Through her unfamiliarity with the technicalities of theology, Joan was trapped into making a few damaging statements. Unable to read or write, she ended up signing statements that were totally false.
When she refused to retract the assertion that it was the saints of God who had commanded her to do what she had done, she was condemned to death as a heretic, sorceress, and adulteress, and burned at the stake in Rouen on May 30, 1431. She was nineteen years old. Her ashes were then scattered so that no remains could be found.
Stories were that her heart was not burned, and that later her persecutors threw it into the river to be certain there were no relics left of her.
Yet she lives on in the hearts of many…..whereas those who put her to death are not remembered at all.
Some thirty years later, she was exonerated of all guilt and she was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV. Her Feast Day is May 30. In Rouen, the Joan of Arc festivities take place on the Sunday closest to May 30th.
An interesting note: the famed author and critic of organized religion, Mark Twain, wrote a novel about Joan of Arc that he called “his best work”. Despite a lack of any deep religious convictions, he was apparently captivated by her story and wrote a fictionalized but fairly accurate story of her life.
Here is what the author himself had to say: “I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation and got none. ”
About the Church of Joan of Arc:The church stands at the site where she was burnt at the stake. And despite the modern look (the exterior will make some of you cringe, we know), it has some magnificent stained glass windows that date from the 16th Century Church of Saint Vincent, that was destroyed in World War II. Fortunately the windows had been saved in storage and are used in the new church.
You should also visit the Notre Dame Cathedral here, where a chapel is dedicated to Saint Joan of Arc. This Cathedral was often painted by Monet at various times of the day.
Note: In the U.S., you will find a Joan of Arc Chapel on the campus of Marquette University….here is the story.
Traveling to Rouen:
Rouen is about 75 miles Northwest of Paris. It is easily accessible by both road and rail. Travel time is about one hour by train, a bit longer by car. Get train & bus schedules, see fares & buy tickets here.
Address: Place du Vieux Marché, 76000 Rouen
GPS coordinates: 49° 26′ 35.8332” N, 1° 5′ 17.9664” E
Tel: +33 2 35 70 44 77
Click here for the tourism website that describes the Church of St. Joan of Arc
The city of New Orleans, Louisiana, named after the French city, has a famous statue of Joan of Arc on horseback in its main square.
1. Mark Twain, “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc”, original edition 1896 & 1899, Harper and Brothers.
2. Musee Jeanne D’Arc, Rouen, France
3. The Pilgrim’s France, James & Colleen Heater, Inner Travel City Books