A sculpture of Saint Joan of Arc in Notre Dame de Paris. It can't be all that old; she was only canonized in 1920. I can't find out very much information about this particular statue; even online details are scant. About Saint Jeanne: she was born in the village of Domremy in about 1412, and she was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. She's often called the Maid of Orleans (La Pucelle d'Orleans) and the Maid of Lorraine (in her own time), born to a peasant family who was still fairly well off, as her father owned about 50 acres and supplemented his income with a minor administrative position in the village. Jeanne reported that she began having visions of the Archangel Michael, St. Margaret and St. Catherine at age twelve, first in her father's garden. The visions instructed her to support the then-dauphin (who later became Charles VII) and to free France from English control during the Hundred Years' War. Jeanne's first and perhaps most famous victory was her lifting of the siege of Orleans, which she accomplished in nine days, securing both her lasting legacy and the determination of the English to have her killed.
Subsequent victories allowed Charles to be crowned at Reims but after a failed attack on Paris she was captured at Compiegne by Burgundian forces allied to the English, who handed her over to them. Because she professed to have visions of holy figures and her practice of wearing men's attire she was subsequently put on trial for heresy, of all things, at Rouen by the Bishop of Beauvais, the much maligned (probably deservedly so) figure Pierre Cauchon. The trial consisted of little more than a kangaroo court, as the tribunal was composed entirely of pro-English clerics and it was administered by English commanders. Indeed, even contemporary figures heaped scathing criticism on the proceedings, which were entirely illegal on a number of grounds. In short, there was simply no evidence of heresy, as a clerical notary charged with obtaining it was forced to admit, so legally no proceeding could even be initiated. Jeanne was also denied her right to legal counsel and the ridiculous jury stacking violated even the medieval church's requirement that trials for heresy be judged by an impartial group of clerics, a fact which Jeanne complained about at the opening of her examination. Her legitimate request to have groups of French clerics present to make the proceedings more balanced was of course refused.
The English had a singular, almost obsessive objective: to have her put to death. She still might have escaped the fire, however: Jeanne was convicted of heresy but signed an abjuration (which she could not read, being largely illiterate, although it is reported that she eventually learned to write her own name) under the threat of immediate execution. This confession would have allowed her to live in prison rather then being subject to immediate capital punishment, which involved a torturous death by being burned alive, but life behind bars in a medieval jail was perhaps an even worse fate than death, as she may have realized. She shortly recanted, and was indeed killed in May, 1431 at about 19 years of age. Eyewitnesses state that she was bound to a tall pillar at the Vieux-Marche in Rouen and set ablaze. During her ordeal she reportedly asked two clergy members, Fr. Martin Ladvenu and Fr. Isambart de la Pierre to hold a crucifix level with her eyes. An English soldier, perhaps taking some pity on her, also constructed a small cross which she had affixed to the front of her dress. She reportedly died calling "God" and "Jesus," which were her last words.
Such was their fervor over this young maid that the English raked the coals to expose her charred body, then burned the remains until nothing remained but ashes to prevent any relics from surviving, and finally cast her remains into the Seine. Perhaps the executioner, one Geoffroy Therage, summed up the mentality of the English best: he later stated that he "greatly feared to be damned" for the deed, revealing the power of this legendary figure even in her own time.
Joan of Arc is one of the most famous of all Catholic saints, and is something of a legend the world over. She's been called the most studied medieval figure, and there is a surprising amount of surviving primary source evidence concerning her exceptional case. One of the most famous (or notorious) aspects of her character was her (understandable) practice of cross-dressing: she reportedly wore the attire of a man, frequently being in the company of soldiers). This practice was considered heretical and scandalous at the time, resulting in some of the charges against her which eventually resulted in her demise at the hands of the English army. Not surprisingly, after she agreed to begin wearing dresses in prison, Jeanne reported to a tribunal member that an English lord had entered her cell and had attempted to rape her. She thus resumed wearing male attire until her death, which ironically was viewed as a relapse of heresy, resulting in her immediate execution.
A brief 25 years after her death, however, an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III examined the mockery of a trial she was subjected to and found her innocent, declaring her a martyr. Her mother, Isabelle Romee-D'Arc was instrumental in initiating the proceedings, known as the "nullification trial." In an odd, albeit perhaps not-surprising turn of events, her accuser, Pierre Cauchon, was denounced in the final summary, dated June, 1456, as a heretic for the murder of an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta, whereas Jeanne was heralded as a martyr. The appellate court declared her innocent on July 7, 1456. Despite her popularity through the ages, curiously, she was only beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920, but she's now considered one of the nine secondary patron saints of France.
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