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This Week at St Mary’s

Ste. Jeanne d’Arc—the Maid of Orléans

Tess Clothier writes:

This Thursday, 30th May, is the 594th anniversary of the death of Joan of Arc, and the day kept in the Church of England lectionary for her commemoration. A French peasant girl during the Hundred Years’ War, from childhood Joan had visions of saints and angels that ultimately led to the crowning of the Dauphin as Charles VII of France in Reims. She cut her hair short and wore men’s clothes as a means of protection amid the ravages of war, but she was later captured by Burgundian troops at Compiègne and tried for heresy by the English. She was burned at the stake on 30th May 1431, aged just nineteen.

She was canonised in the Roman Catholic Church in 1920 and has since become one of the official patron saints of France. Her story is known throughout France and across the world, and she is an inspiration to many – including me.

I’ve been interested in St Joan since I was a teenager, even before I came to faith as an undergraduate. Her depth of faith at such a young age, and her willingness to say ‘yes’ to the extraordinary things asked of her by God, is deeply inspiring, and to me mirrors the ‘yes’ given by the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. Many popular retellings of St Joan’s story like to imagine her as resisting God’s call, and for going along with it somewhat begrudgingly. But that doesn’t feel right to me – her courage in the face of challenge after challenge is something I think about often, and I don’t think she could have been so brave if she wasn’t fully invested in her cause.

There is a written record of St Joan’s trial, originally in Middle French, but it was shortly thereafter translated into Latin. She was questioned on all manner of topics over fifteen sessions – some of which were of a theological nature, in part to attempt to trick her into admitting heresy. Of these, the one I find most fascinating, and perhaps the most widely known, was “Do you know whether or not you are in God’s grace?” It was designed to trap her into condemning herself – if she answered ‘no’, then she was admitting that her cause was not God’s will; however, it was a heresy to claim to be certain of who was in God’s grace. Her answer deftly avoided saying either: “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”

I pray often for the courage, wisdom, and strength of faith of St Joan. I was not catechised in a tradition that encouraged the adoption of a saint’s name at Confirmation, but if I had been, it undoubtedly would have been hers.

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