I’d never heard of Yolande of Aragon until I began delving into the life of Saint Joan of Arc. Now I know that without this medieval dynamo, the world might never have been blessed with the gifts of St. Joan.
Yolande’s role in St. Joan’s mission tells me a few things. First, none of us work Christ’s plan for our lives in isolation. Second, women have played key roles in history and their importance in Church history is no exception. In fact, one could argue that the Catholic Church stands alone in the degree to which it honors women and their role in securing salvation.Third, perhaps behind every powerful woman there is another woman, cheering her on.
Yolande of Aragon was born a princess on Aug. 11, 1384. During her lifetime her titles included: titular queen regnant of Aragon, titular queen consort of Naples, Duchess of Anjou, Countess of Provence, and regent of Provence. Tradition says she commissioned the Rohan Hours, an illuminated manuscript book of hours that now sits in the Biblotheque Nationale in Paris. That book depicts the agonies of Christ and the grief of His mother in dramatic detail.
At any rate, Yolande was strong and she was a contrarian. These traits gave this mother of six the ability to discern the face of Christ in a young illiterate peasant girl when others could not. She had claimed the throne of Aragon as her own after her father and uncle died, even though laws of succession at that time favored only males. She chose to support France in its Hundred Years’ War against the English and the Burgundians. She supported the Dauphin, Charles, in his quest to become king even as his own mother plotted against him. “It has been said that Yolande was the person who kept the adolescent Charles alive and protected him when all sorts of plots were attempted against his life, and acted as a substitute mother to young Charles.” And so she was his surrogate mother, and later, his mother in law when she arranged for one of her daughters to marry him.
It was in her own castles in the Loire Valley where Charles first encountered Joan of Arc. In Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Twain’s narrator recounts how Yolande was the first in the royal family to recognize Joan was inspired by God,
At last she said. slowly, as if she were talking to herself: “A child of seventeen – a girl – country bred – untaught – ignorant of war, the use of arms, and the conduct of battles – modest, gentle, shrinking – yet she throws away her shepherd’s crook and clothes herself in steel, and fights her way through one hundred and fifty leagues of hostile territory, never losing heart or hope and never showing fear, and comes – she to whom a king must be a dread and awful presence – and will stand before such a one and say, Be not afraid, God has sent me to save you! Ah, whence could come such courage and conviction so sublime as this but from very God himself!”
This lead me to wondering: can I see the face of Christ in others? Am I open to understanding God’s hand guides our lives? Would I see a saint if she passed by me?
St. Joan, pray for me so that I am able to do so.