The morning of May 7, with only the Bastille of Les Tourelles standing between Joan and freedom for the city of Orleans, she spoke the words quoted in this title. Soon, all of Christendom from Rome to London would hear of a most remarkable victory by the battle-weary French army, itself led by a most remarkable young woman. The Bastille of Les Tourelles would fall this day by no less than the sheer determination of Joan of Arc, known by her contemporaries as Joan the Maid. Very soon, she would be acclaimed by a title known throughout history as, “The Maid of Orleans.” Almost six hundred years later, the city still celebrates her victory.
According to historian Regine Pernoud, “Joan moved energetically and swiftly, showing just how much she could do, but near or shortly after midday she was wounded, apparently by an arrow above her breast, as she had foreseen.” (“Joan of Arc: Her Story” p. 47). In tears, she had to retreat in order to allow her soldiers to remove the arrow. Someone suggested applying a “charm” to heal it which she strenuously refused saying, “I would prefer to die rather than to do something I know to be a sin, or against the will of God.” (p.47)
By evening time, the combatants had grown weary, and it seemed that the fortress would not be taken. Joan was spotted riding to a secluded spot in a vineyard to pray alone for approximately 15 minutes. Upon her return, we have the decisive moment. “Joan had handed her standard over to a squire named La Basque. Jean D’Aulon ordered him to follow himself and Joan to the foot of the ditch. Joan caught sight of her standard, saw that the squire who carried it had entered the ditch, and grabbed it. Pulling with all her strength, she ‘waved the banner in such a manner,’ said Jean D’Aulon, ‘that when she did so the others thought that she was giving them some signal. In short, all those in the army of the Maid rushed together and rallied themselves and with great ferocity assailed the breastwork, and shortly after this breastwork and the Bastide were taken by them and abandoned by their enemies; and the French crossed the bridge and entered the city of Orleans.'” (p. 47-48)
Just what happened in that ditch in front of the Bastille of Les Tourelles the evening of May 7 is a matter of confusion. Did Joan rally her troops purposely? Did she simply pull her standard from La Basque with such energy that her army thought she was sending a signal? Prayers are answered in mysterious ways at times. Perhaps we will never know the answer to just what happened at that precise moment until that Great Day when all will be known. I, for one, will be watching the footage.
However, we do know this. As Jean D’Aulon suggests and her page Louis de Coutes informs us:
“The King’s men got ready to attack again; and when the English saw this they put up no defense. They were terrified, and practically all of them were drowned. In that last attack, there was no defense put up by the English side.” (Ibid, p. 178)
Joan of Arc did cross that bridge into the city of Orleans that evening just as she had predicted. The following day, May 8, all of the English forces remaining in the area left the city, went to a field, and poised themselves in battle formation. However, the Maid resisted a charge and told her men at arms to let them go if they choose. The English were not preparing a counter-attack at all. They were weary and beaten. They just wanted to make sure that they would not be attacked from the rear in retreat. When they saw that Joan was not going to chase them, they turned and left. The siege had been raised. To this day, May 8 is celebrated in the streets of Orleans as the day of freedom from foreign occupation given them by the courage and spiritual strength of the young girl from the village fields of Lorraine.
And so what of the rest of the story of Joan of Arc? You must take the time to read it. You will not find a more inspiring, heart wrenching, troublesome, heroic, or tear-jerking story in all of history save for the story of Our Lord’s divine life and passion in ancient Palestine. So much of Joan’s own life imitates that of Our Lord’s, and this is the highest compliment she can receive.
After freeing the city of Orleans, she cleared out the Loire Valley of the rest of the English. She took Charles VII and marched him through enemy territory to Reims to be crowned King of France. Every English (or English allied Burgundian) town en route surrendered to her without a fight, simply on her reputation as a Warrior sent by the King of Heaven Himself. It is far easier to go along with heaven than to resist it, a lesson we should be contemplating today.
In the end, she would have the honor, known only as such by the citizens of heaven, of going through her own passion. The way of the cross is foolishness to man but is the glory of God as St. Paul tells us. Burgundian English sympathizers who hated Charles VII captured her. She was dragged to Rouen, the English capital in occupied Normandy. Joan was mistreated, told lies, threatened with torture, and chained in bed at night with callous, mean spirited English soldiers in her room with her. The only reason she was not raped was that the wife of the English King’s regent, the Duke of Bedford, felt pity for Joan despite her being an enemy, and threatened the soldiers with their lives if they touched her. Thank you dear woman, and may Our Lord hold you in esteem for doing that.
Joan was set up in a kangaroo inquisitional court influenced by the English military who wanted her burned as a heretic and witch in order to discredit Charles’ claim to the throne. Men bearing the robes of the very Church Joan so loved, yet under English influence, shamefully sought to humiliate her and burn her. Most terribly, the king she had just crowned a year before refused to come to her aid. We all wonder, to this very day, why Charles abandoned her. Then again, “ye without sin, cast the first stone.” This is a tragic sight indeed. However, have no fear; it is Joan who will smile in the end.
As she was led to the stake, I want you to hear some of the eyewitness testimony from the moment of her execution. It is likely that, if you have even a glimmer of warmth burning in your heart, you will find it hard to hold back your tears. From Jean Massieu at the trial of rehabilitation many years later:
“She uttered pious and devout lamentations and called on the Blessed Trinity, and on the blessed and glorious Virgin Mary, and on all the blessed saints in paradise, naming many of them in her devotions, her lamentations, and her true confession of faith. Also she most humbly begged all manner of people, of whatever condition or rank they might be, and whether of her party or of the other, for their pardon and asked them to kindly pray for her, at the same time pardoning them any harm they had done her.”
“The judges who were present, and even several of the English, were moved by this to great tears and weeping, and indeed they wept most bitterly. Some, and several of these same English, recognized God’s hand and made professions of faith when they saw her make so remarkable an end.”
“She asked most fervently to receive a cross….and an Englishman who was present… made her a little one out of wood from the end of a stick. She received it and kissed it most devotedly, uttering pious lamentations and acknowledging God our Redeemer, who suffered for our redemption on the Cross…”
“Then without any formality or any reading of the sentence, they dispatched her straight to the fire, saying to the executioner, ‘Do your duty.’ And so while she was uttering devoted praise and lamentations to God and the saints, she was led off and tied to the stake. And her last word, as she died, was a loud cry of “Jesus.”
The day was May 30, 1431. The executioner threw her ashes into the river Seine. By eyewitness testimony of this same executioner, her heart would not burn. An English soldier reported that he had seen a white dove fly out of the fire and in the direction of France. Distraught and in tears, he went to find a priest to make his confession.
Joan of Arc went to heaven that day, of this I am quite sure. However, for the citizens of ancient Christendom, she would be known as a heretic for a quarter of century. It was at this later date when Charles VII, still enjoying his Kingship of France won for him by the Maid he never attempted to rescue, ordered a review of the trial. It was during this trial that ecclesiastical authorities became alarmed at the irregularities, apparent forgeries to the original trial manuscript, and the contradictions that faced them from this politically inspired inquisition. On July 7, 1456, Pope Callistus III’s legate declared her condemnatory trial null and void and further declared Joan a martyr for the Church. Her ecclesiastical accusers were condemned as being politically corrupt.
Approximately 500 years later, on May 16, 1920, Joan of Arc received her rightful honor as a canonized saint of the Roman Catholic Church. She was later declared Patroness of France. Yes, finally, and after centuries of political machinations between England and France, the Church universal held up Joan of Arc that the entire world might see her for the jewel that she is.
Many of us are very glad, very glad indeed for this. As for me, I have the great privilege of playing a small role in this whole affair. Quite simply, I have the joy and privilege of telling others the story of Joan of Arc. It is a simple man’s duty, not that of a noble, and one that I pray Our Lord will judge in the end, not by its grammatical expression, but by my faithfulness and love in performing it. I have nothing else to offer.