Who was St. Joan of Arc?
St. Joan of Arc is one of the most celebrated and well-known saints throughout the world despite the fact that she only lived to the age of about 19. And until the age of 17, she was completely unknown outside of her hometown.
The popular image of Joan is one of her clad in armor astride a horse and charging into the thick of a battle with arrows flying and knights clashing with each other all around her. She did wear armor. And she did ride into battle. However, she never actually fought in the battles. Instead, what is even more miraculous is that she simply carried a standard with the names of Jesus and Mary on it and rode around throughout the battles urging on the troops.
Before she ever made it into a single battle, Joan had to get from her small village of Domremy to the battlefield. It was no small task for a teenager who had grown up on a farm taking care of the sheep and helping grow vegetables. All the same, in the span of really only a few months, she went from being a farm girl to helping the armies of France retake key cities in their war with the English.
The Beginning and the Obstacles
Joan was farm girl with very little formal education who began to receive special revelations at the age of 13. The archangel St. Michael along with St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch spoke with her and urged her to prepare for a mission which was as unexpected as it was daring. Joan was to help the rightful heir to the throne, Charles the Dauphin, be crowned as King of France.
Aside from the fact that Joan did not know Charles and did not know anyone who knew Charles, there were several major obstacles to this mission. At the time, what we now know as the country of France was controlled by forces that were either in support of Charles or in support of England which had been trying to wrest control of France for decades in the Hundred Years' War. Through this divisions, the country was carved into these opposing forces.
The war had been dragging on for decades and recently France had been doing very poorly. It had been a long time since there had been a true French victory.
The other main issue was that the city of Reims was controlled by forces who supported England. That was a major issue because all French kings since the twelfth century had been crowned in the cathedral of Reims. Unless Charles was crowned in Reims, he would not be considered a legitimate king even by those who fully supported him.
Thus, from a purely human perspective, what Joan was being asked to do might seem impossible. She was supposed to travel hundreds of miles across the countryside, which included enemy territory, in order to meet the Dauphin and convince him that she was called by God to lead him to Reims where he would be crowned King of France.
However, Joan was not a person who looked at things in purely human terms. She had faith in God. And over the course of the four years that she had received messages from God through the saints, her faith in God had been strengthened. When the time came to act, she was prepared to place all of her trust in God.
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Joan Takes the First Steps
Joan had to navigate around her immediate family whom she knew would be completely opposed to her pursuing her mission. Fortunately, she had a cousin who lived in a nearby town she could visit. And near where her cousin lived was a man named Robert de Baudicourt who was a noble and a knight and a vassal of the Dauphin. With that type of connection, she was convinced that she could proceed.
Joan's cousin, Durand, was 15 years her senior, and thus, she called him "uncle". After confiding in Durand regarding her mission, she pleaded with him to introduce her to Baudicourt. Her cousin took Joan to Vaucouleurs and made the introduction. It is possible that they were able to reference Joan's father to help make the meeting possible. Joan's father was an official who helped collect taxes, and in the previous year, he had met with Baudicourt regarding the village taxes for Joan's home town.
As the local ruler, Baudicourt lived in a formidable castle. Joan was brought into the great hall and explained that her Lord had sent her on a mission to have Charles crowned King of France. When Baudicourt inquired as to who her Lord was, Joan simply replied that it was God. Baudicourt was amused but certain that this was a waste of his time. He advised her to go home.
Although this was a setback, Joan was not deterred. While she stayed in the local village, she was able to share her story with others. And one person in particular proved to be convinced by what she said. Jean de Metz believed her and pledged his help. As other villagers came into contact with Joan, they caught her faith. Soon a number of the villagers were championing her cause.
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Getting the Support She Needed
Baudicourt remained unconvinced despite the rising popularity in Joan's mission. However, Joan was finally able to convince him that she was hearing from God when she informed Baudicourt of the outcome of a battle that had taken place far from where they were on the very day she spoke with him. Several days later, Baudicourt received official word on the details of the battle which matched what Joan had said.
This proof was almost enough for Baudicourt. He took one final step. Baudicourt called upon a local priest to have Joan exorcised. Baudicourt and the priest arrived at the home where Joan was staying. Such a visit by the lord of the region was quite unusual to say the least. The priest, whom Joan knew, performed the exorcism and proclaimed that any evil in her must leave and that if she was a good spirit, she should come forward. At that word, Joan stepped forward and knelt in front of the priest. Joan was a very frank person, and so even after kneeling, she told the priest that he had acted improperly. Joan stated to the priest that he surely knew that there was no evil spirit in her because he had just her confession.
Finally Baudicourt gave his approval for Joan to travel to meet the Dauphin with his letter of introduction. She was to be accompanied by Jean de Metz, his squire, an archer, the royal messenger, and three servants.
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The Journey to Meet Charles
Their three-hundred-fifty mile trip to Chinon where the Dauphin was would mainly be through territory that was controlled by enemies of Charles. They simply could not afford to even be stopped lest their mission be revealed. Nonetheless, Joan was not afraid. She was sure that the Lord would provide a safe way through the country of the enemy.
Although Jean was sure of Joan's mission, not everyone in the small party were convinced of Joan's story. They questioned the sanity of a young girl who would undertake such a trip. Nonetheless, over time, they did become assured simply based on her courage, her will, and her integrity.
The entire party traveled by horses taking the least conspicuous routes and sometimes traveling by night. When they came to a church, Joan always wanted to stop to hear mass. The others in the party discouraged her from this for fear of being discovered. According to Metz, they only stopped twice to hear mass on the eleven day journey.
Throughout the time Joan continued to hear from the three saints. And they always reassured her of her mission and helped her know in advance how she should be prepared. With her trust in God and His messengers, the party avoided being stopped by enemy forces throughout their entire journey.
Thus, the young maid who had recently been helping on the family farm arrived in Chinon in order to take the next step in her journey, namely to meet with Charles and to convince him that she could rally the armies of France to clear a path to the city of Reims where Charles would be crowned king.
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Want to Learn More about St. Joan of Arc?
I highly recommend this book about St. Joan of Arc. It is based on the extensive documentation that was done at her trial and provides a clear view of what this young woman had to undergo as she followed God's call and suffered martyrdom for her obedience to the Faith.
Feast Day (memorial): May 30th
Patron of France
Patron of martyrs
Patron of prisoners
Patron of soldiers