SUNDAY, MAY 16: It’s been just 90 years since the canonization of Joan of Arc, the young woman who led French troops to victory and was martyred at the tender age of 19. Joan of Arc was excommunicated from the Church prior to being burned at the stake. Ironically, that excommunication was annulled and she was officially declared a martyr just a few decades later—but she didn’t earn sainthood for centuries afterward! (Wikipedia has more on her canonization.) Joan of Arc was beatified at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1909, and then canonized 11 years later by the Roman Catholic Church. St. Joan of Arc’s feast day is May 30.
Joan of Arc was born in 1412 to a peasant-class French family, and family members attest that she was always piously religious. (Gale Cengage Learning dedicates a full page to her life.) From a very young age, Joan says she heard three voices: That of St. Michael, the saint to whom many pray to for help in battle, and those of St. Catherine and St. Margaret, two women who were martyred on behalf of the Church. Although the voices gave general statements at first, they soon came to announce something bigger. In May, 1428—when Joan was 16—she says the saints told her to approach the King of France and help him reconquer his kingdom. During Joan’s life, the King of England coveted the French throne, and Joan said she was given orders to help protect it.
After facing much opposition, then-17-year-old Joan raised the siege of Orleans with a small army in 1429. Joan’s armies continued to taste victory, and during her success, the King of France was able to be crowned. (Catholic.org has the Catholic perspective.) Just a year later, however, the infamous leader was captured and sold to the English. After enduring months of imprisonment, torture and hunger—from which the King of France did not come to aid her—Joan was tried in court. Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, anticipated rising even further in the Church with the help of the English, and he declared her a heretic on their behalf. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. (Learn about the International Joan of Arc Society here.)
Just one year after her death, the city of Orleans, France, commemorated Joan’s death. Three years later, a religious play dedicated to Joan was performed in Orleans—a tradition that continues, in some places, to this day. (Wikipedia lists the extensive number of places Joan has been featured in cultural history.) Secular historians of the mid-19th century sparked interest in the canonization of Joan, and on May 16 of 1920, more than 30,000 people attended her canonization ceremony in Rome. (Read the official pronouncement here.) More than 140 descendants of Joan of Arc’s family were present at the ceremony.
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
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