Happy Birthday to St. Joan of Arc

600 hundred years ago, the Maid of Orleans was born. True, her Feast Day is on May 30th, but today is her birthday all the same. Happy Birthday Joan…I’m glad you were on the planet!

Many of us can’t get behind “crazy” people who hear voices and form impromptu armies and such, can we? But that is what Joan did. She must have been at the right place and at the right time, God willing, because folks listened to her and followed her into battle.

Kathyrn Harrison, novelist and biographer of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is also penning a book on the life of St. Joan. She writes in the New York Times today about the patron saint of this blog,

JOAN OF ARC was born 600 years ago. Six centuries is a long time to continue to mark the birth of a girl who, according to her family and friends, knew little more than spinning and watching over her father’s flocks. But type her name into Amazon’s search engine and you get more than 6,000 results. France’s national archives include tens of thousands of volumes about her. She has been immortalized by Shakespeare, Voltaire, Twain, Shaw, Brecht, Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Rubens; more recently, her life was fodder for the CBS television series “Joan of Arcadia.”

What is it about Joan of Arc? Why is her story of enduring interest more than a half a millennium after her birth?

By the time Joan of Arc was 16 and had proclaimed herself the virgin warrior sent by God to deliver France from her enemies, the English, she had been receiving the counsel of angels for three years. Until then, the voices she said she heard, speaking from over her right shoulder and accompanied by a great light, had been hers alone, a rapturous secret.

But in 1428, when the voices pressed her to undertake the quest for which they had been preparing her, they transformed a seemingly undistinguished peasant into a visionary heroine who defied every limitation placed on a woman of the late Middle Ages. The least likely of military leaders, Joan of Arc changed the course of the Hundred Years’ War and of history.

Joan said she sheared off her hair, dressed in male attire, put on armor and took up her sword at God’s behest. She was feverish in her determination to succeed at what was, by anyone’s measure, a preposterous mission. As Joan herself protested to her voices, she “knew not how to ride or lead in war”; and yet she roused an exhausted, underequipped and impotent army into a fervor that carried it from one unlikely victory to the next. She raised the siege of Orléans by defying the cautious strategies of seasoned generals to follow inaudible directions from invisible beings.

Illiterate and uncouth, Joan moved purposefully among nobles, bishops and royalty. So intent on vanquishing the enemy that she threatened her own men with violence, she herself recoiled at the idea of bloodshed. To avoid having to use her sword, she led her army carrying a 12-foot-long banner emblazoned with the words Party of the Kingdom of Heaven. Witnesses said she was luminous in battle, light not glinting off her armor so much as radiating from the girl within. Her enemies spoke of clouds of butterflies following in her wake, a curiously beatific report from men who said she was in league with the devil.

That’s our girl! Go read the rest. And while you’re at it, go read Webster Bull’s thoughts on this author and the forthcoming biography. Because we see through a glass, and darkly. St. Joan of Arc, pray for us.

See Also: St. Joan of Arc in Music for Mondays.


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