Monday, May 30, 2011

Hail, Martyr and Patroness of France

                                     "St. Joan of Arc," Cathedral of Notre Dame

Today is the Feast of St. Joan of Arc (d. 1431 AD), one of the most remarkable personalities of history.  Joan was an unlettered shepherdess, one of five children born to French peasants at a time when The Hundred Years War between England and France was raging.  France was beset by internal divisions, and prone to English invasions.  Indeed, Joan and her family had been forced to flee before the invader's armies.   While in her early teens, Joan received repeated visions of St. Michael, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret, who, at this perilous hour, charged Joan with the mission of saving France.  Joan, who could neither ride nor fight, resisted the entreaties of these heavenly voices, until, at the age of sixteen, she relented.  Joan thereupon presented herself to the Dauphin, the heir-apparent of France, and, in obedience to her voices, proposed to lead the Dauphin's armies to victory and see him crowned King of France at Reims.   After overcoming the Dauphin's doubts and other difficulties, Joan's proposal was approved.  Joan duly led the French armies to victory, raising the English siege of Orleans and routing the English at Patay.  This opened the way to Reims, where the Dauphin was soon crowned Charles VII, King of France, thereby ensuring the survival of the French nation. 
Shortly afterwards, Joan was captured in battle by the English.   The ungrateful Charles never attempted to ransom Joan.  Joan was tried for heresy, and although her shrewdly intelligent answers often confounded her learned examiners, Joan was nevertheless condemned and burned at the stake.  In 1456, the verdict of the court was overturned.  Pope Benedict XV canonized Joan in 1920.

From the transcript of the trial of Joan of Arc:

 . . Asked if she knows she is in God's grace, she answered: "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace."

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