Saint Jeanne d' Arc, Martyr

Biography, Page 4

Saint Jeanne d' Arc
by Sister Marie-Bernard, M.I.C.M
SOURCE: FROM THE HOUSETOPS, Vol 38, No. 1, Serial No. 74

15th Century Sanhedrin

For months she suffered every misery and insult. Finally on February 21, 1431, her trial began. At first the start of the trial was a great relief to Jeanne. She felt sure that, unless it were a complete miscarriage of justice, the verdict could only end in her favor. She had seen how men could be bribed and blinded, and how prejudice and passion were weapons often used to distort the truth. But she was sure that with the help of God, she would clear her name in an open court, for surely statesmen-----even more, churchmen-----would not shed innocent blood.

But the bench of forty-seven judges before which Jeanne was brought was composed of perhaps the most unjust, cruel, and untruthful men since the court of Caiphas. These were men willing to sell even themselves for gold or position, men who did not just curve justice, but twisted and perverted it to fit their needs.

The presiding judge was Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. He was known even in his lifetime as "Peter the Pig" not only because the French word for pig, cochon, resembled his name, but also it held a definite resemblance to certain aspects of his character. He was a Frenchman, yet he was loyal to the English cause because it offered more opportunities for higher positions and acquiring more wealth. A ready and willing tool in the hands of Jeanne's enemies, Cauchon was the perfect unscrupulous and ambitious man needed for the job. This Judas Iscariot of the fifteenth century was given authority over the trial under the pretext that Compiègne, where Jeanne was captured, lay in his diocese of Beauvais. In his eagerness to make a name for himself, he was willing to take "justice" into his own hands and convict and execute an innocent girl, and for this loathsome act his name will be remembered with shame until the end of time.

The plan was to convict her in an ecclesiastical court on spiritual misconduct charges of corrupting society at large. Then she would be turned over to the secular authorities for sentencing and punishment by the law. It was a re-enactment of the trial of Christ before Annas and Caiphas, Who at last was sentenced and executed by Pilate. Jeanne appearing before her judges was not allowed an advocate, and though accused in an ecclesiastical court, she was illegally confined in the secular prison of the Castle of Rouen, and subjected to the watch by five dissolute men instead of women guards. She complained bitterly of this and begged to be moved to a church prison with women attendants, but she was denied this least of comforts. Therefore she kept her male attire, against the demands of the court, for better protection of her modesty.

The trial was long and rigorous, and Jeanne soon realized that no matter what was said, she was already condemned. All her answers were twisted and changed as they were recorded. "I come from God," she exclaimed exhaustedly one day; "there is nothing more for me to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I come." Her numerous judges drew up articles describing her as a devil-worshipper, a traitoress, a coward on the point of despair, suicidal, an idolater, a blasphemer of God, a schismatic and an apostate. Though she was badgered and berated as a liar and an enchantress, examined and cross-examined day in and day out, Jeanne still proved to be more than a match for her accusers. "You call yourself my judge," she once warned Cauchon, "beware of what you do, for truly I am sent by God, and you are putting yourself in great danger." Her quick, decisive answers often took her judges off-guard and many marveled that a peasant could fight off the harassment of a courtroom full of experienced judges for months in succession. She kept her calm and peace of mind throughout, and still found comfort in the counsel of her Voices who promised to lead her to Heaven by a great victory. "I would die," she said, "were it not for the revelation which comforts me daily."

But nothing human could save the brave girl who stood all alone to defend herself against a courtroom of men unitedly determined to condemn her. They were trying desperately to trip her up and get her to doom herself so they could pass the sentence of execution. Failing to get her to sign a "confession" and death warrant, on May 11th they took her to the torture chamber. At the sight of the fire and iron, and the instruments in the hands of the torturer, she broke down in tears, unnerved and fearful.

On the scaffold, Jeanne asked for and was given a cross. However, she did not renounce her supposed sins, as Bishop Cauchon had been expecting.

But realizing the enemy was gaining ground, she soon regained her composure and declared boldly, "Though you should tear me limb from limb and pluck my soul from my body, you will never drag from me anything but the truth that my mission is from God!"

How terrible must have been those last months of her life! Every word, every action was watched and weighed by her shrewd enemies in order that they might catch her in error. She was subjected to the keenest mental torture for hours at a time and threatened with execution daily in the courtroom. In her cell she was in constant physical distress at nearly every moment, in danger of the foulest indignity and outraged day and night. Still, the life of Still, the life of the Maid from the time of her capture until her death was but another line of victorious battles. Perhaps most triumphant of all was the fact that through her sufferings she was not helped by generals or soldiers, friends or enthusiastic crowds but remained "cheerful and brave" before her bloodthirsty enemies completely alone.

Finally, after a year of imprisonment, and four months of daily examinations, the long drawn-out trial came to an end. The judges held their council and having "weighed" her testimony, declared her a relapsed sinner, a heretic, one excommunicated, etc., and sentenced her to be burned to death at the stake. As Robert Hugh Benson once stated, "It was no more the Catholic Church, properly speaking, that consented to Jeanne's burning, than it was the Apostolic College that crucifled Christ. It was rather, in both cases, that same World which today is perse cuting Jeanne's spiritual brothers and sisters in her own country."

The Final Battle

On Wednesday, May 30, 1431, the day before Corpus Christi, at seven in the morning, the nineteen-year-old prisoner was told of the verdict of the court. "Will they treat me so horribly?" she sobbed, "Must my body which has never been violated be burned to ashes? I would prefer to be beheaded seven times than to be burned so." She dressed in a long white robe and a hood, and was permitted to make her Confession and receive Communion from a Dominican. That act alone was proof of the injustice of her accusers. If her judges truly believed her to be a heretic and apostate as they had condemned her, surely they would not have allowed her to receive the Holy Eucharist!

At nine o'clock, accompanied by two Dominicans, she was led in tears out of the castle and placed into a cart. Even in that dreadful hour, she was not alone. Her Voices were very near her then, supporting and encouraging her.

Escorted by eight hundred English soldiers, armed with swords and staves, she was driven through the dreary streets to the place of execution. A sea of faces surrounded her filling the streets and stairways, and even the rooftops-----so much like the throngs that had praised her in Orleans, only now her enemies. No one reached out to her, no one hailed or cheered her. Only the tramp of the soldiers and the clatter of the wooden wheels over the cobblestones were heard. Tens of thousands watched somberly as the "Savior of France," the Maid of Orleans, the heroine they had loved and sought after, was taken to an unjust death. Save for the weeping of women and the sobbing of children, a strange silence reigned through the city. "Rouen, Rouen, shall I die here? Art thou to be my last home?" Her haunting cry must have chilled the onlookers, for there was no doubt that she was one sent by God.

At the Old Marketplace three stages had been erected, one for Jeanne, one for her judges and the third, the stake. Having reached the dreaded destination, she mounted the platform opposite her accusers. A judge arose and delivered a long and stern exhortation to her. Jeanne stood unmoved by his speech but with the sight of the terrible stake before her, she lamented the awful death so near. The pharisaical judge ended by saying, "Jeanne, the Church casts you off; She can defend you no longer; go in peace."

Finally Bishop Cauchon, the epitome of conceit, political ambition and worldliness, rose and pronounced the sentence condemning and delivering her to the civil authority as, ". . . a homicidal viper . . . the poisoned virus of heresy . . . this pernicious leprosy . . . for these causes . ..  we decree that thou art a relapsed heretic . . . we denounce thee as a rotten member . . . cast out from the Unity of the Church . . . abandoned to the secular power." Knowing how untrue all the accusations were and having no human appeal, Jeanne fell to her knees weeping. In a last effort to vindicate herself of these crimes she prayed aloud, "Most Holy Trinity, have mercy upon me! I believe in You. Jesus, mercy! Mary, help! Saint Michael, help me! Holy Mother of God! Blessed Saints in Paradise, help me!" She also begged pardon from all and uttered her forgiveness for the injustices done to her and to those who were guilty of her death. Then she was surrounded by the guards and led before the civil judges. By now the crowd had begun to grumble at the obvious injustice and a great confusion spread among the authorities. Jeanne was hurriedly given over to the executioners before the secular sentence of death had been given. She was therefore illegally condemned. Only three deadly words were then directed to the executioners, "Do your duty."

Roughly the soldiers hurried her to the pyre where the wood had been piled around the desolate stake. A paper miter bearing the accusations of her judges was placed mockingly on her head. As she was violently chained to the stake she shouted out to Cauchon, "Bishop, I die through you!" With death now imminent, she cried out in fear for a crucifix. An English soldier made a cross out of two sticks and handed it to her; she kissed it and clasped it to her heart. Meanwhile one of the Dominicans raced to the church to fetch a crucifix. On his return Jeanne asked him to hold it up before her. As the fire began to crackle and smoke, she told him however, to move away from the flames so he might not be hurt. He fixed the crucifix on the end of a long pole and held it before her eyes above the flames as long as she could see it.

Soon the flames were rising and lashing towards her. For one last time she looked out over the stricken city and sobbing, called out, "Rouen, Rouen, much do I fear you will suffer from my death." Then from amid the mounting flames, her voice was heard clear and audible in supreme justification of her faith and mission. She declared that she was not a heretic, an enchantress or an idolater, as the writing accused her; that all she had done had been by the command of God. Her words reached the crowd, now on their knees, "My Voices were from God," she cried, "they have not deceived me!"

Finally the roaring blaze surrounded her, hid her from view. Above the hiss of the fire, and the tears and lamenting cries of the crowd, the last cry of the brave, young Jeanne d' Arc was heard clearly, "Jesus! Jesus!"

At last the final battle of the warrior girl was over. Her mission was complete, and triumphantly her pure soul sped Heavenward to receive the Martyr's crown and her eternal reward.

When the crowd had dispersed, and the judges had gone from the Old Marketplace, the soldiers set to disposing of the remains from the smoldering fire. At the base of the stake, mid the ashes, was found the noble heart of the Maid, intact and full of blood. In vain the English soldiers tried to burn it with oil, sulfur and charcoal, but the only remaining relic of the brave young Martyr could not be destroyed. "We have burnt a Saint!" exclaimed one of the soldiers. "We are lost." Terrified, they gathered her heart and ashes into a bag, took it to a bridge over the Seine and cast it into the river.

The Indestructible Heroine

The story of Saint Jeanne d' Arc is the story of a deeply religious French girl who was called by God to enter politics. She was condemned to death by a bishop who instead of being religious, was deeply political; called by men to disregard God. It is a mystifying story where, almost against her will, Jeanne enters a public arena at God's command to restore a procrastinating, weak and corrupt king to his legal throne and to rout the political enemies of her country through gory battles. She was not just a symbol to her armies, she was their strategist, their reformer, their Divinely appointed General. She gave an example of religion' s influence and revealed God's mercy and solicitude for the daily plight of the common man. For although Jeanne d' Arc was solely responsible for the crowning of the Dauphin, liberating the French people from the tyranny of foreigners and unifying France under one rule was the triumph of her mission.

But Saint Jeanne d' Arc's life did not end in the pyre of Rouen. Her example lives on even today. Her life shows us that God does not abandon His little people, the common man; that He will confound the strong and the mighty, raising the little and forsaken to do His work; that it does not take money and power to achieve the lasting things of life. It merely takes a willing and simple faith to hear the voices of Divine inspiration and the selflessness to answer them. 


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