Saint Jeanne d' Arc, Martyr

Biography, Page 1

Saint Jeanne d' Arc
by Sister Marie-Bernard, M.I.C.M
SOURCE: FROM THE HOUSETOPS, Vol 38, No. 1, Serial No. 74
TO ORDER: [978] 456-8296

Like a phoenix rising from the smoldering ashes of an all but extinguished monarchy, the ravaged country of France emerged in 1431, united and restored to power by a 19-year-old girl, who was known as the "Maid of Orleans." This girl' s ability to raise troops and her military successes are spiritual phenomena that attest to the fact that all power comes from God and that if He so wills it, He will raise leaders from the very rocks of the earth. Her mission was not so much to vindicate the King, but to liberate and unite her countrymen, who appealed to Heaven for deliverance from the tyranny of the King's selfishness and the threat of England's ambitions. Her feats of valor, enrolled forever in history, stand unmatched and timeless. Her fame has spread throughout the world, for no story compares to the heroic life of Jeanne d' Arc.

Jeanne's home, as it stands today in Domremy where she was born, and lived for 16 years.

Jeanne's sudden rise from an obscure life on a farm to the position of general in her nation' s army is nothing short of miraculous. In an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm, the French people who had been crushed from years of defeat came from allover the country to greet this little girl of sixteen, who was their sole hope of liberation. She rode at the head of an army of men twice her size and many times her strength. She gained incredible victories over insurmountable odds. Enemies who were entrenched in French cities for years were defeated in weeks by this country maid. She was sent by God to deliver her people and nothing could stop her. Sacrificing her personal comfort and safety, she gave everything she had to accomplish this mission, even life itself. She was the hero of her country, a military genius, and an invincible warrior. But above all, she was a brave peasant and an example to all ages of how one insignificant person can change the world by heeding the call of the Divine Commander.

In the French province of Lorraine which lies south of Vaucouleurs beside the Meuse River is the village of Domremy. It was here on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, in the year 1412, that the second daughter of Jacques and Isabelle d' Arc was born. She was their fifth child and they christened her "Jeanne."

Her early childhood was very much like that of the other children in her little village. She and her brothers and sister grew up together sharing a life full of laughter, fun and sweet, simple piety. Although she never had formal schooling, she learned the "Hail Mary ," "Our Father" and "Creed" at her mother's knee. She was also well instructed in the doctrines and practices of the Church and all that was needed to lead a good Christian life. At the age of seven she made her first Confession and soon after, her first Communion. A deep love for the Holy Eucharist grew within her and whenever possible, she would go to Mass and receive Holy Communion. When she was unable to go she would often kneel in the fields at the sound of the church bell calling one to Mass or to pray the Angelus . Most of her early childhood was spent with her brothers in the field watching the family flock, but as she grew older she spent time spinning, sewing or helping her father in the garden. She was a hard-working, lively child, who loved to spend her free hours playing with her little friends or weaving garlands of wild flowers to festoon Our Lady's statue in the church.

As her character blossomed, her strong faith and simple piety, manifested by her love of the poor and sick, drew the attention of the neighbors and friends. Her spirit of self-denial was unique for a child so young. Jeanne would often sleep on the bare floors at night, having given up her bed to wayfarers who craved lodging in her father's house. Another characteristic conspicuous in Jeanne was her deep sense of duty. When the bell ringer of the church was careless of his duty, she would often coax and bribe him with handfuls of wool from her sheep, to ring his bell more punctually.

In this contented home, Jeanne d' Arc grew up, enriched with virtue and a simple peasant's faith. She was well built like a farm girl, strong and lithe, as finely proportioned physically as she was morally. The village curé, when asked about her, said she was "a perfect Christian and a true Catholic."

A Cowering Nation

But despite the pleasant country life, times were not good for France. Ravaged by 100 years of political strife, known as the "Hundred Years War" between France and the invading forces of England, people became accustomed to unannounced invasions, resulting in death and social instability. Although the war was at an end by 1425, the havoc it had wreaked caused hopeless confusion and division among the French people. The jealous cousin of the Dauphin, the Duke of Burgundy, and his powerful forces of Burgundians had allied themselves with the King of England and were a fatal threat to the unity and allegiance of the French people. Two-thirds of the country were influenced by the English invaders and under their municipal control.

The loyal suffering minority were yearning for unity under the true King of France, Charles VII, who although the legitimate King, reigned only in name, as he had never been crowned. Unfortunately he was surrounded by advisors who sought their own comfort at the expense of the French nation. As long as he remained uncrowned France was "up for grabs" by any army that ventured onto its land and staked a claim through battle for the King of England. They were at the point of demoralization and offered little resistance because of the apathy of the government at large.

Though the village of Domremy escaped major battle scars, retaining its quiet, slow moving pace, news and fear of the invading English was well known to its peaceful inhabitants. During Jeanne's childhood, Domremy had been invaded by Burgundians  and the village families had averted bloodshed by quickly taking refuge outside of the town. Often in the fields children would discuss the stories they heard told at home of the weak and cowardly King and what battles were won and which ones were lost. They would re-enact their favorite warriors and their feats. Hearts would flare up in patriotism, and with childish bravado they would pledge that they would save their country. Little did they realize that from among their little playmates God would call the one who would be the glory of their country.

Heavenly Voices

One summer day in Jeanne's thirteenth year, when she was turning up soil in her father's garden, she was suddenly enveloped in a bright light. Looking up she saw the brilliant form of Saint Michael the Archangel. He told her to be a good child and to say her prayers, and that Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret would come to give her guidance and help. When he left her, Jeanne wept, for she was left with a great desire to go with him.

As he had promised, a short time later her two supernatural counselors, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, appeared to her. For three years she kept silence about what she later referred to as her "Voices." Not only did she hear the three Saints in conversation but she saw their faces and persons, and kissed the ground they stood on. Though these heavenly friends visited two or three times a week, no one, not even her mother or confessor, was told a word about them. To all outward appearances, Jeanne remained the same. There was no change in her character or manners. She carried on her chores as diligently and cheerfully as before, never giving any hint of the great fa- vors that were being bestowed on her.

Gradually these Heavenly visitors revealed the mission that God had ordained for her. She was to "go into France" to "raise the siege of Orleans" and to "crown the Dauphin." Clinging to the knees of the Saints she pleaded with tears that she was just a simple girl with no skill and wholly unfitted by both nature and training for such a task. She had no experience in riding and no knowledge of battles or military training, yet her Voices insisted, "Go," they urged, "to Robert de Baudricourt, Captain of Vaucouleurs. He will furnish you with an escort to accompany you to the Dauphin."

By the beginning of her sixteenth year the Voices became insistent and begged Jeanne not to delay. Under the guise of visiting her uncle's family, she obtained permission from her parents to go to Vaucouleurs, a larger city lying just north of Dornremy.

Her first interview with the rough captain took place on Ascension Day, 1428. The meeting was arranged by her uncle who was told by the captain to "take her home and box her ears." The meeting was uneventful. Jeanne returned home a little disappointed but not at all discouraged. Her father threatened that if she should try to do such a disgraceful thing again, he would drown her with his own hands. Yet throughout the summer and fall the Voices kept pressing her urgently to get on with her mission, "Go, daughter of God, go!" which increased the agony she bore until God saw fit to answer her prayers.

January came, and after much thought and prayer, she turned away from her family, her home, and all that she held dear, and headed north once again. "Nothing could have made me leave my home except a call from God," she said, " and once I was sure of that call, nothing could keep me home, not even one hundred mothers and fathers !" So, a second time she started for Vaucouleurs, determined not to leave Baudricourt until she had an escort to the Dauphin in Chinon.

God surely guided her, for somehow Jeanne won her way into the heart of the brusque soldier, and instead of sending her home for a sound beating, Baudricourt sent her on to the Dauphin in Chinon with a special escort.

The Mission is Begun

Jeanne cut her hair and disguised herself as a page boy. Then, for the first time in her life, she mounted a horse for a ride of four hundred miles. The journey of eleven days, in the cold dampness of February, through land infested with robbers, was a difficult one for even the most experienced soldier. But how much worse it must have been for a seventeen-year-old girl, away from her family for the first time, thrown in with seven rough soldiers, and with no knowledge of horses or riding!

The gates of Chinon opened to the little escort on March 6, 1429. Robert de Baudricourt had sent word to the Dauphin informing him of Jeanne's coming, yet for two days after her arrival, he procrastinated about the meeting. On March 8, he finally sent for her. Having his court assembled, the Dauphin, partly out of mischief and partly to test her mission, hid among the crowd of nobles, and bid another take his place. Jeanne entered. An attractive young girl in doublet, hose, gaiters and spurred boots, with a sword at her side, crossed for the first time into the glamour and sparkle of a royal banquet hall. It was enough to stun any ordinary peasant, but to Jeanne, whose friends shone with the brilliance of the Heavenly court, the light of earthly splendor made little or no"impression. She studied the man on the throne and the other numerous faces, then strode through the crowd and dropped to her knees before the Dauphin. "God give you life, noble Dauphin,".she exclaimed, and kissed his hand. Charles stood in awe and the crowd protested that she had mistaken his identity. But Jeanne insisted in her opinion saying, "I am Jeanne the Maid, I am sent by God to regain for you the kingdom which is yours and to make war on those English. Why do you not believe me? I tell you the truth when I say that God has pity on you and on your people."

To confirm her words, she took the Dauphin aside and whispered a secret told to her by her Voices. Immediately Charles understood that she was sent by God, and believed her. But as to her mission, he had her first subjected to an extensive examination by ecclesiastics. For many days she was questioned about her family, upbringing, home, Voices and mission. It was a thorough examination from beginning to end. Finally her judges declared that they had "found in the Maid nothing but what is good."

The Girl General

Having the approval of Church and king, Jeanne could at last begin her task. A suit of white armor inlaid with silver, worth the price of one hundred war horses, was made for her at Tours as a gift from the Dauphin. Next came a coat-of-mail over which she wore a complete steel-plate armor. As all the soldiers of the fifteenth century, she was completely encased in steel. This necessity demanded two or three attendants to help her mount and dismount her beautiful black charger which was another gift from the king. Charles would have also given her a sword, but Jeanne's Heavenly visitors had instructed her otherwise; she ordered that one of the soldiers go to Fierbois, a village she had stopped at enroute to Chinon, and fetch the sword which was buried in the ground behind the high altar in the Church of Saint Catherine. The sword, engraved with five crosses, was found by the clergy, cleaned and polished and sent to her in a scabbard of crimson velvet scattered over with gold fleur-de-lys [which she later traded for a strong leather one for daily use.]

But the thing Jeanne prized above all was her standard. The design had been dictated to her by her Voices and was executed in Tours. It was of white linen fringed with silk and embroidered on one side with the figure of the Savior holding the world in His hands, with adoring Angels on either side. Inscribed at the bottom were the two names Jesus and Maria. Jeanne's announcement that she would carry her standard came as a surprise to all. General and standard bearer were two distinct roles in the army. But her supernatural guides commanded her to "take the standard on the part of God, and carry it boldly." Although she loved her sword, she did not want to kill anyone. Therefore the standard was a safer occupation, though it required a peasant's strong arm to sustain such a weight during the rush and skirmish of battle.

Towards the end of April she was sent to Tours where a military staff was appointed to her. Among the retinue of generals and captains that she would keep close to her were her own two brothers, Jean and Pierre, who had followed her. One can well imagine the friction among the famous and experienced warriors such as LaHire, Jean d' Aulon, Duke d' Alencon and others when they were told they would be subject to the commands of an illiterate peasant, and even worse, a girl!

Public action was taken to hasten the collecting of troops and supplies, and before long an army of about six thousand men was gathered.

Her first care was that an army given to her by God should be worthy of His favor. Though new to the ways of the French army's dissolute camp life, she kept God's honor and glory in view. She did not shrink from correcting their lewd and violent ways. She made it clear that if they wished to march with her to victory at Orleans, each man must cease to curse and swear, and prepare for battle as one would prepare for death, by confession and daily Mass.

Lastly, Jeanne banished from the camp the women of ill repute who usually followed the army. Though they resented this peasant girl' s commands, scolding and cursing her, they soon left, ashamed in the sight of one so pure. Throughout her short military career she never ceased to be disgusted at the sight of such baseness. Once she even broke her beloved sword over the back of an evil woman who refused to leave the camp.

Before Jeanne began to "raise the siege of Orleans" as her Voices bade, she first sent word to the king of England to withdraw his troops from French soil. The English were furious at her audacity. She had no choice but to make a rapid movement toward the city. Provisioned and ready in both body and soul, Jeanne d' Arc and her French army started on the historic march on April 27, 1429. After two days in the saddle and two nights lying in her armor on the ground, Jeanne saw rising before her, on the north side of the river, the mighty fortress of Oreans. Surrounded by a Burgundian army with mounted cannon and built-up fortifications, the spectacle was heart-rending and recalled the horrors of the initial battle that had resulted in the almost complete capture of this once great French city. Beneath the steel armor of a soldier, a young French girl's heart still beat and Jeanne burst into tears at the sight of the city.

Maid of Orleans

It was nearly May and the city had been under siege and encircled by English forces since October. The inhabitants would soon be starving and total defeat was imminent. But God heard the prayers of His people and sent this humble girl to their rescue. One of Jeanne's generals made a false attack on the neighboring town of St. Loup to draw attention away from her and her men. Then Jeanne unnoticed, advanced with only two hundred soldiers into the city unattacked. They had passed within a stone's throw of the English fortifications. Miraculously, Jeanne d' Arc, from then on known as "the Maid of Orleans," rode as a vision through the thronged streets. "I bring you better ransom than ever came to knight or town, the succor of the King of Heaven." With mad enthusiasm the beleaguered city received her and it was with no little difficulty that she made her way on horseback to the great Cathedral of the Holy Cross where she thanked God for a safe entrance, and begged help in the coming battles.

The next few days were spent in determining her plan of action. With the keen eye of a soldier, she surveyed the situation. Her generals and tacticians marveled that a girl of seventeen, who was unable to even write her name, could outwit the enemy. Her presence and courage inspired the army with such confidence that one general stated, "Five hundred Frenchmen were now ready to face the whole strength of the English."

On May 4th, at the urgent bidding of her Voices, she suddenly mounted and rode around to the Burgundian gate. To the surprise of friends and foes, she sat on her charger for three hours in the very thick of battle; Holding her banner for all to see, she cheered and directed her archers until at last the wild shouts from within the city proclaimed a glorious victory for the French.

The triumph was hers, but it was also Jeanne's first real experience of the horrors of war and she wept at the sight of the bloody massacre. With her own hands, she tended the wounded, taking care that they received surgical aid and the Last Rites of the Church. Through all the fame and glory bestowed on her, she never forgot to urge her soldiers to prepare for battle as for death with prayer and the Sacraments. It was on these spiritual weapons that she relied for victory far more than on the crossbow and the sword.

May 7th again saw Jeanne leading her forces in an attack on Tourelles. For ten hours the struggle raged, and again and again the French were driven back, but she urged them on to take the place. Seeing her opportunity, she seized a scaling ladder, and was about to plant it against the wall of the fortress when an arrow pierced her between the neck and the right shoulder. As she collapsed the English let out a wild whoop at the fall of the "Devil Witch" and the French forces began to loose heart. She was quickly moved out of the range of battle and attended to. Though crying with fear and pain, Jeanne drew out the barbed arrow from her bleeding shoulder with her own hands. The wound was dressed with olive oil and stanched with cotton, and within an hour she was back in the battle field renewing the attack. "When my banner touches the wall the place is yours," she cried. She bounded forward, and with one mighty rush the fortress was taken.

With the capture and fall of Tourelles, the beleaguered city of Orleans was delivered. That night the English struck camp, and before the sun rose on May 8th, were gone. The citizens were nearly crazy with happiness. The streets and alleyways, windows and roofs were crawling with mobs of cheering people as Jeanne made her way through the city .The throng hailed and praised her. Hands reached out to touch her, her horse or the banner . Peasants kissed her feet or stirrups and even the ground she had ridden upon. Children and infants were raised up that they might be blessed by a look from the Maid. And she had well earned her praise, for in one short week this girl of seventeen had achieved what the generals of the Dauphin's army had balked at for months. The victory of Orleans remains today an insoluble puzzle to the military tactician, and one of the decisive battles of the world.


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