Jeanne d’Ark, the Maid of Orleans, Saint Joan…

    In some ways she was no different than other teenagers of her day. Raised by a peasant-farmer family, she could neither read nor write. But this young French woman had the spiritual strength to lift a nation. At the time of Joan of Arc’s birth (c. 1412), the Hundred Years War had turned France into a land of little hope. The people needed leadership, they needed a king.
    She called herself Jeanne la Pucelle (Joan the Maid) and by the age of thirteen her duties were annunciated, she believed, by the voices of saints. These heavenly words and religious visions sent Jeanne la Pucelle to quest for her king and soon led her into battle.
    At 17 she convinced a laughing military commander that she was no mere child to be brushed aside. A military escort brought her to the castle in Chinon and to an audience with King Charles VII. Charles was recognized by some as France’s ruler but he had never been crowned — the city of Reims, where coronations were held, remained in the hands of the English. His government, filled with bickering advisors, was paralyzed and its treasury depleted. Joan proved to the king her allegiance and found support in the clergy as a woman of sound faith. She was given her armor, a banner, and the command of troops.
    Joan of Arc led the French to crucial victories and became a surpassing hero for her countrymen and her fellow Catholics. The teenager who dressed in men’s clothing defeated the English at Orléans in 1429; her triumph at Reims earned her the nation’s adulation and paved the way for the coronation of King Charles VII.
    On a campaign to free Paris, she was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English for a large sum. Tried for witchcraft and heresy, her continued insistence that her visions and voices came from God fell on closed ears. A tribunal of French clergy sympathetic to the English sentenced her to death and she was burned at the stake. Named a saint in 1920, she has been the subject of hundreds of movies, books and plays, including George Bernard Shaw’s classic Saint Joan.