May 30 – The Feast of St. Joan of Arc

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I will say boldly that throughout history Our Lord remains active and vibrant, occasionally painting the sky in yet one more shade of brilliance so that the world may witness His Grandeur, His Call, His Kingdom. He is forever proclaiming that Kingdom through His followers, and for those who wonder just where He is today, I will tell you: He is all around and always has been throughout history (“I am Who am,” Ex 3:14). As we look back through the centuries, we see His works of art in occasional flashes of the blues, reds, yellows, greens, violets and peaches of others’ love, sacrifice, and faith. We see acts of virtue and heroism that impress our soul the way a panorama of beautiful flowers, majestic mountains, peaceful meadows, and rushing creeks impress our senses. On May 30, 1431, the world witnessed one more of those brilliant soul-edifying expressions.

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It was on that day that Joan of Arc, the Deliverer of France, was cruelly executed at the stake as a criminal and heretic, though she was innocent. There can be no greater objective in life, and no greater compliment to give another, than that their life is an imitation of Christ. And Joan of Arc’s life so resembles that of Christ’s that we are in awe of His handiwork. Joan carried out her mission with unyielding faith, hope, and love. She was wrongfully accused; she refused to deny her faith and call, and she therefore was unjustly executed as a mere criminal.

The earth did not shake, but many miracles did take place when she died. The cry of “Jesus!” was her last exclamation before expiring, and the name “Jesus” was seen written in the flames. Tough English soldiers repented and confessed on the spot. The executioner testified that her heart would not burn. A soldier spotted a white dove flying out of the flames and toward unoccupied, free France. I am convinced that after that dove circled the hills, valleys, and meadows of the French countryside, it soared through the gates of heaven, bursting on arrival into that brilliant, colorful expression referenced above and then was painted across the sky by the swift and mighty hand of Jesus Himself. That last part is not written in any of the history books, but it is written in my heart.

Defend the Kingdom no site

It would be just over four centuries later when another spectacular light of Christ would come into the world that was a reflection of that same peculiar light from heaven. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was inflamed with a love for Joan of Arc and considered her to be a kindred soul. Joan was a source of courage for Thérèse as she suffered her own cruel death, not by political corruption, but at the hands of the dreadful disease of tuberculosis.

It was Thérèse who taught me about Joan of Arc. I am convinced that Thérèse is the only person who actually can explain Joan to me in a satisfactory manner. Thérèse saw Joan’s life through the eyes of Christ. She saw Joan’s life through the eyes of love, sacrifice, and unyielding devotion to Our Lord no matter the cost, even that of her own life. There is a name for that devotion. It is called martyrdom. Thank you Thérèse, I see it now. And thank you, Joan, for your witness born through that martyrdom and which now shines in that magnificent color in the sky.

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It was because of Joan and Thérèse that, metaphorically speaking, I looked up into the sky one day while I sat miserably sick and alone in the Dark Forest. There was a special and marvelous color in the heavens that day. Filthy and afraid, I peered out from the trees and saw these two who smiled and pointed out and upward toward a most marvelous Kingdom in the distance. I made a decision to take their hands, and we have been following a very narrow but breathtaking path ever since. I have not arrived, in fact, far from it. I just run along as best I can. I trip and occasionally fall into deep crevices. Sometimes I even annoy my sisters by running off to the darkness of the Forest again. I’m just that way. However, they will run after me and drag me out again. This is the only difficulty of the path, you see, that I want this Kingdom of Christ’s, yet, sadly, “what I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want but, but I do what I hate” (Rom 7:15). So, then, “what occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith” (Rom 3:27). That faith to which Joan and Therese bore witness gives me faith, and off I will go with them yet again. Special needs demand special help.

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So, in short, this is what the Feast Day of Joan of Arc means to me. My heart is filled with gratitude for the friendship of these two saintly sisters through whom, together, Our Lord has created that very special color in the heavens.

Let me leave you with some of the last words written by those who knew Joan of Arc and who conducted her trial of rehabilitation to clear her name some quarter of a century after her death. And here I ask one thing of the reader and one thing only. If you care nothing about what is written here so far, if my words have done nothing to pierce your heart, I ask that out of mercy you think for a moment of Joan’s mother, Isabelle, who bore the loathsome weight of a cross for almost twenty-five years because her beautiful, faithful, and heroic daughter had been unjustly declared an apostate and burned as a heretic by impious, corrupt, and partisan clergy. I ask you to think of this mother who carried her maternal duties to the very end of her life by bringing this case forward to see to it that her child’s name was cleared before her country, and indeed before all of Western Civilization. Imagine how tears must have streamed down her cheeks when, after months of deliberation and review of the original condemnatory trial and written record, she heard the following solemnly pronounced by the Archbishop of Reims on behalf of Pope Calistus III in Rouen, the very city where Joan died:

“That although it was abundantly apparent to the aforementioned judges that Joan had submitted to the judgment and decisions of our Holy Mother the Church, and that she was so faithful a Catholic that they allowed the Body of Our Lord to be administered to her, nevertheless out of their excessive zeal for the English, or not wishing to extricate themselves out of fear and pressure, they most unjustly condemned her as a heretic to the pains of fire.”

“That Joan continuously, and notably at the moment of her death, behaved in a saintly and Catholic manner, recommending her soul to God and invoking Jesus aloud even with her last life’s breath in such a manner as to draw from all those present, and even from her English enemies, effusions of tears.”

“That the preceding and other points being weighed, the case and the sentence are both null and most unjust…”

And as the Archbishop’s gavel fell with all the authority and power of a Papal anvil, these words rang through the cathedral in conclusion:

“And so it was and that is the truth.”

At that moment Isabelle must have broken down, shedding over two decades worth of tears. All of Christendom (excluding the mighty Plantagenet house in England) rose to its feet in cheers of joy. But Isabelle cared little for that. She was a poor, simple peasant mother, caring little for politics but much for her child. She had raised Joan a good Catholic, and all Isabelle cared about as her mother was that she died a good Catholic. That is the power of a mother before the eyes of God. Tearing mothers can move the heavens, and, as here in this trial among powerful princes, the earth as well. Isabelle told the devil to go to hell. And not enough credit is given her, on earth at least, for that.

It was this, and much more, that I witnessed when I peered out of that dark and lonely Forest. It was for this, and much more, that I decided to come out. This was the most beautiful color I had ever seen, and it was bursting forth from a Kingdom that I then joyfully understood really existed.

Thank you, Joan. And, by the way, thank you mother Isabelle.

Royaume France VBB

May 7 – The day of Victory! “In God’s name, tonight we will enter the city by the bridge.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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“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.

Defend the Kingdom Royaume France

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.

StM

May 6 – Joan’s bravery in the face of confusion at Iles-aux-Toiles provokes an ill-fated English attack

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The day of the Ascension passes, and Joan is moving again. No longer fearing a counter-attack from Saint-Loup since its capture a couple of days ago, she marches to take the strategically placed Bastille on the island called Iles-aux-Toiles. Only here she discovers to her surprise that the English have already abandoned it and have withdrawn to re-group in the Bastille of the Augustinians. There, the English would have leverage to protect the ever-important Les Tourelles that sat on the waterway protecting the entrance to Orleans. This simple maneuver by the English now put Joan’s forces in great danger. The French had to retreat from the island. They were exposed.

We will let Jean D’Aulon, Joan’s personal guard, tell us what happened next:

“As soon as the French began to return to the Bastide of Saint-Jean-le-Blanc to enter the Iles, the Maid and La Hire (Captain) went to the other side of that island, with a horse and a boat each, and mounted their horses as soon as they had landed, each with a lance in hand. And when they had perceived that the enemy was coming out of the Bastide of the Augustinians to rush upon them, the Maid and La Hire, who were always in front of their men to protect them, immediately couched their lances and led the attack upon the enemy. Everyone followed them, and they began to strike the enemy in such a manner that they constrained them by sheer force to withdraw and to return to the Bastide of the Augustinians….Very bitterly and with great diligence, they assailed that Bastide from all directions so that they seized it and took it by assault quickly. The greater part of the enemy were killed or captured, and those who could save themselves withdrew to the Bastide of the Tourelles at the bridges foot. The Maid and her company won a great victory over the enemy that day. The great Bastide was taken, and the lords and their men remained before it all night, along with the Maid.” (Pernoud, “Joan of Arc: Her Story”, pp. 45-46.)

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For those who think that Joan of Arc might have just been “another pretty face” to inspire the army, having no real substance herself, you should read the account above again. Joan’s personal heroism is a consistent theme during her short military career. Here, on May 6, she personally protected the “backs” of her men who had been foiled and were attempting a dangerous retreat. That retreat provoked an attack by the enemy, which was then repelled with the Maid right in the thick of things. Her perseverance and bravery inspired her men to storm and take the Bastille of the Augustinians, the one rampart that stood between them and their deadly enemy Glasdale, who now waited furiously in the Tourelles.

Tomorrow – we have the final showdown between Joan of Arc and Glasdale. It will be a most bitter day for the latter. In fact, it will be the last day of his life. Joan will show more bravery by rushing headlong into the fighting using nothing to protect her but her banner flying in the wind. She will take an arrow and refuse to die. She will come again, wounded, to push Glasdale out of the Bastille to the point where he has no choice but to die.

Tomorrow, Joan of Arc will enter Orleans, not around, but through Les Tourelles.

StM

May 5 – Feast of the Ascension – Joan refuses battle in honor of the holy day – but sends a final ultimatum

 

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The English do not know it, but they have only two more days before their siege over Orleans is broken. With that backbreaking, their hopes of claiming the royal crown of France for Henry VI, boy king of England, will go with it. The surge of activity starting tomorrow and through May 7 will shape the course of history for Europe and, indeed, Western Civilization as whole forever. The ramifications of a dual monarchy based in England versus the firm reinforcement of the single French Crown in her traditional role as the “Eldest Daughter” of Christendom and of the Church are enormous either way.

At this point in history, almost 1,000 years have gone by since the late 5th century when the first Catholic king of the Franks, Clovis, was baptized and received the anointing of holy chrism oil by the Church in Rheims. Clovis established the true faith over the heretical claims of the Arians by his military victories. The anointing of every French King after that transferred to them that heritage for the defense of Europe, the defense of the Faith, and the defense of the Church who proclaimed it. Yes, just who was to be anointed in Rheims, Henry VI of England or Charles VII of France, would have huge ramifications regarding both ancient tradition and the future of our Western world we have inherited today. The single person in the middle of this whole affair is a young seventeen-year-old peasant girl who is now the military leader for the demoralized Charles VII and his nearly defeated army. She is facing what seems to be insuperable odds against an unbeatable foe.

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However, on this day, May 5, we have another feast day, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. Joan, being raised in the chivalrous spirit of medieval Christendom, refused to engage in battle on a holy day. However, in an attempt to avoiding more bloodshed, she spent this day dictating a final ultimatum to her English foes. That ultimatum was shot over English lines by arrow and read as follows:

“You, O English, who have no right to this kingdom of France, the King of Heaven orders and commands you through me, Joan the Maid, to leave your fortresses and return to your country, and if you do not do so I shall make an uproar that will be perpetually remembered. Behold what I write you for the third and final time; I shall write you no further.”

Signed,

Jesus-Maria

Joan the Maid

(Pernoud, “Joan of Arc: Her Story,” p. 44)

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She offered the following post-script with a touch of wit and perhaps even a little bravado in light of yesterday’s great victory at Saint-Loup:

“I have sent you my letters honestly, but you have detained my messengers, for you have kept my herald named Guyenne with you. Please send him back to me, and I will send you some of your men who were taken in the fortress of Saint-Loup, for they are not all dead.” (Ibid. p. 44)

Well, shall the English take this note seriously and leave? Will they counsel over this new development and see the light? I am afraid I have dire news on that front. These messages seemed to put the English in the foulest of moods. No, they did not intend to leave. In fact, they responded with:

“Here’s news from the whore of the Armagnacs!” (Ibid p. 45)

To this, Joan began to sigh and weep, calling on the King of Heaven to help her. There was no respect on the part of the English for Joan of Arc.

And did I tell you? I think I forgot. The English were planning something of their own after all. Lord John Talbot, the respected and feared commander of the English forces in the region, was sending Captain John Fastolf with a large number of reinforcements to Orleans. They are just days away. Time is critical. We certainly have no time now for Dunois’ “caution.”

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Upon hearing of these approaching English reinforcements, Joan was, ironically, elated! Her steward relates:

“At these words, the Maid seemed to me full of joy, and she said to my lord of Dunois these words or others like them: “Bastard, O Bastard, in God’s name, I order you, as soon as you know of Fastolf’s coming, to let me know it, for if he should pass by without my knowing it, I promise you that I will have your head cut off!” The lord of Dunois answered that she should have no doubts on that score, for he would indeed let her know.” (Ibid, p. 43)

Joan was, as we might say today, “a tough cookie” despite her age and gender, particularly in medieval France. Over the next two days, the English will find out just how tough she is.

Tomorrow – the Bastille of the Augustinians is taken! Joan and her forces are now directly facing the final knot strangling the city of Orleans, that being the Bastille of Les Tourelles, where Joan’s most famous victory, one of the most famous victories in all the history of Christendom, will take place on May 7.

Soon the world will be shouting, “Vive La Pucelle!” “Long live the Maid!”

StM

May 4th – A most touching tribute to Joan from one of her soldiers – and, Saint-Loup is taken!

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I must admit that May 4 during the siege of Orleans holds a special place in my heart. It is not only that we are on the cusp of something, well, miraculously big. Who does not like a great battle story, anyway? No, the reason I so love May 4 with the return of The Bastard from Blois with Joan’s army is that on this day we have a most moving account of loving tribute given her by one of her soldiers. We will allow Mark Twain to regale us here. It is this story that most mimics my own feelings; it touches me deeply in the heart. The story of the Dwarf is, in a certain way, my own story indeed.

The Dwarf, in quick summary, was a very large soldier who, upon re-entering Blois on the march back from Orleans, deserted the army. The reason he deserted the army was that his wife, his one love in life, was fatally ill. He wished to see her before she died. After her death, the Dwarf ran to catch up to the army. Despite the heart-wrenching circumstances, the other soldiers took no mercy on Dwarf and threatened him with death as a deserter. They carried him with the army back to Orleans as a criminal. Joan wanted to know what this was all about and approached him. She listened to the man’s story. What she did next would leave the Dwarf changed forever. The following account is as good as any to describe how Joan felt about her soldiers and how Joan’s soldiers felt about her. In summary, there was a bond and a love between them that prepared each to give their lives for the other. This enthusiasm, this will to live, fight, and even die for the Maid was a force that no number of English garrisons would be able to match.

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“The eyes of the two met (Joan and the Dwarf), and Joan said to the officer, “The man is pardoned. Give you good-day; you may go.”

Then she said to the man, “Did you know it was death to come back to the army?”

“Yes,” he said, “I knew it.”

“Then why did you do it?”

The man said quite simply, “BECAUSE it was death. She was all I had. There was nothing left to love.”

“Ah, yes, there was – France! The children of France have always their mother – they cannot be left with nothing to love. You shall live – and you shall serve France.”

“I will serve YOU!”

“You shall fight for France.”

“I will fight for YOU!”

“You shall be France’s soldier.”

“I will be YOUR soldier!”

“You shall give all your heart to France.”

“I will give all my heart to YOU! – and all my soul – if I have one – and all my strength, which is great – for I was dead and am alive again; I had nothing to live for, but now I have! You are France for me. You are my France, and I will have no other.” (Twain, “Joan of Arc,” p.180)

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That type of love and enthusiasm drove Joan’s army to meet the English for the first time that day with wild abandon. For, despite the tepidity of the rest of the English in the surrounding bastilles that were choking Orleans of its life, the forces from the Bastille of Saint-Loup had sallied forth to attack “the witch’s” men at arms! This one daring advance by the English would ultimately mark the beginning of the end for the English in France.

It was a battle in the open field, and when Joan came forward with her banner flying and shouting, “Forward men! – Follow me!” the French forces surged forward in a terrible and frightening way. The English were repulsed but formed a counter charge and returned as like a raging fire.

Dunois had now arrived on the scene, and those of the enemy who survived ran back into the fortress for a short-lived respite. He thanked Joan and told her that she would now receive a great reception!

“NOW? Hardly now, Bastard. Not yet!”

“Why not yet, is there more to be done?”

“More Bastard? We have but begun!” We will take this fortress!”

He tried to talk her out of it. (That famous French military “caution” that so annoyed her)

“Bastard, Bastard, will you play always with these English? Now verily, I tell you we will not budge until this place is ours. We will carry it by storm. Sound the charge!” (ibid. p.190)

And with that, Joan’s forces brought the Bastille under French control. Joan had experienced her first battle and was gloriously victorious! The morale of the French forces rose to the heavens, as did their voices in loud acclamations of joy!

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However, when they went to search for Joan and to raise her high on their shoulders as they marched back into Orleans, she was not in sight. When they did finally discover her, she was alone, sitting with her face in her hands, tears streaming from her eyes. Joan was, after all, only seventeen years old. How she wished she could be back home in Domremy tending her father’s sheep! Sadly, more fighting would be necessary. Orleans was not yet free. This was only the beginning. More bastilles would have to fall.

Tomorrow – The Feast of the Ascension – no fighting for one more day – then we move to glorious victory and a feat that will forever make Joan known as “The Maid of Orleans!”, still celebrated each year, 600 years later, in the city of Orleans.

StM

May 3rd – Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross. As we wait one more day for Dunois – a touch of humor (to brighten your day!)

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During Joan’s era in the early 15th century, the rules of chivalry still dictated that armies cease-fire on Sundays and feast days. That is one ironic advantage of Christian being at war with Christian. If there must be a war (and must there be? As Joan spoke plainly in her trial two years later, “Why did not they leave France and go back to their own country?”), at least Christians of old knew enough at least not to offend Our Lord on His most holy of days! Therefore, for various reasons, including the striking one mentioned yesterday, we are at rest for one more day. Stick around though, for tomorrow things begin to get quite exciting!

For today, as we sit in the city square, hoping that the English do not attack in anticipation of Dunois’ return, we will cheat by telling a story from a couple of years ahead, a story that no citizen of Orleans on that day would have known. Ah, but we have the advantage of retrospection!

While Joan was in prison two years later during her trial at the hands of her English captors, we find her facing the most abominable treatment. Yet through it all, witnesses would testify later that she gave the most amazing, indeed even miraculous, responses to the rapid fire questioning of her inquisitors. Those who objected to Joan’s treatment testified that her examiners tried to confuse her. According to these witnesses, Joan gave pleasing and wise responses that even those doctors of theology sitting in attendance from the University of Paris would have had trouble answering! She was particularly noted for her outstanding memory. They would ask her questions on different days to see if she would give conflicting answers. She never did. In fact, she would often point out to them the exact day that she did answer that question and just what she had said. Given that each daily examination lasted between 8 and 12 hours, that is a remarkable feat, particularly for an uneducated teenager! Sometimes, they would even purposely read back false accounts of what she answered, but Joan would always correct them.

One such account demonstrates how remarkably this young woman maintained her composure and even her sense of humor during this devastating, life and death ordeal, sitting all alone with not one friend to support her.

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From Pierre Daron at the trial of rehabilitation decades after Joan’s death:

“I heard some people say during the trial that Joan was miraculous in her answers and that she had a remarkable memory. For once when they were interrogating her on a point on which she had already been interrogated a week before, she answered, “I have been asked that before, on such a day, ” or “I was interrogated about that a week ago, and I answered like this.” Even though Boisguillaume, one of the scribes, told her that she had not answered that question, some of those in the court protested that Joan was right. Then they read the answers for that particular day and found that Joan was speaking the truth. She was greatly elated and told Boisguillaume that if he made another mistake she would “pull his ears.” (Pernoud, The Retrial of Joan of Arc, pp. 222-223)

I am sure that made a number of witnesses, including Boisguillaume himself, chuckle inside, though no one would dare show it for fear of the Bishop of Beauvais and the English who threatened the lives any who supported Joan. However, it must have made for a good hushed chuckle over dinner.

Tomorrow: Things begin to roll. Joan takes her first of three bastilles. Joan of Arc takes the Bastille of Saint-Loup! Orleans is just days from being free!

StM

May 1st through 3rd – Conflict appears inevitable while Joan waits for her army

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It is May 1, and Dunois is off to help bring in the army, which is making its way back from Blois. He likely is relieved to have a good excuse to leave Orleans. Joan is not easy to manage, and to sit and wait with her may press hard even Dunois’ well-honed political acumen. “They need me dear Maid! I shall see you in a few days!” he might have yelled to her over his shoulder as he ran for his horse and rode into the distance with a sigh of relief.

But he will be back. And things are likely to heat up when he does. The English are not budging. Worse yet, they do not take Joan seriously and merely mock the French. In God’s name we should leave? What did she say? Did we not crush the French at Agincourt almost 14 years ago? Have we not now pressed them to the brink at Orleans? On whose side is God anyway?

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We have different points of view. Minds are not meeting. The inevitable is less than a week away.

But let us take today, a day in the eye of the hurricane, and reflect on a most intriguing question. That question would be: Just why were the English being so passive during these days? We witnessed only yesterday that they preferred merely to trade verbal insults with Joan rather than to come after her as she stood defenselessly just within earshot. They sounded quite brave as they stood behind their rampart walls, hiding from a seventeen-year-old lady.

Could it be that the English were just a little bit afraid of this child? More curious still, in just a few days time and with the return of Dunois, we will witness a strange sense of dullness by the English. You will be shocked to discover that the English merely sat silently as the French men at arms made their way past their positions. Could a powerful and well-trained army, such as was that of the English, simply let enemy reinforcements walk by?

What is up with the English?

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Vita Sackville-West, a non-Christian believing, non-religiously oriented biographer of Joan’s calls this English passivity during the early days of May simply inexplicable. Though Ms. West buys none of the Catholic Christian explanations for Joan of Arc’s wonder-workings, she nevertheless is so mystified by Joan that she ultimately admits that there had to have been something supernatural about her. Ms. West is intellectually honest on any account. Our non-believing friend shakes her head in wonder. Yes, there is something about this young lady. But as for the English, Ms. West has no such words of admiration:

“Why on earth the English did not attack the Bastard and the Pucelle (Maid) on that occasion passes my comprehension. They might have caught them both, and what a prize that would have been! Still further does it pass my comprehension to understand why they refrained from delivering a decisive assault on Orleans during the three succeeding days (May 1-3)… What an opportunity was theirs had they only chosen to take it!” (Saint Joan of Arc, p.176)

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Well, rather than give Ms. West my own biased opinion (which has to do with believing as opposed to not believing!), I shall let those closest to the situation explain this mystery.

At Joan’s trial of rehabilitation some quarter of a century later, our man Dunois would reveal the following:

“She wanted to cite the English besiegers of the city before trying to raise the siege or attacking them; which she did. She cited the English in a letter written in her mother tongue, in very simple language. The substance of this letter was that they, these English, must agree to give up the siege and return to the kingdom of England, or else she would attack them so strongly that they would be forced to retire. This letter was sent to my lord Talbot, and I swear that the English, two hundred of whom had previously been sufficient to rout eight hundred or a thousand of the royal army, from that moment became so powerless that four or five hundred soldiers and men at arms could fight against what seemed to be the whole force of England. And sometimes they so mastered the besieging English that they dared not leave their strongholds and bastilles.” (Pernoud, The Retrial of Joan of Arc, p.138)

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Joan’s personal page, Louis de Coutes would give this remarkable testimony at that same trial concerning the battle for Les Tourelles, which we will witness in a few days:

“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)

Aha. These tough talking Englishmen were more afraid of this seventeen-year-old than they let on. Some, including Thomas Marie, a Benedictine monk who was a witness from the original condemnatory trial in Rouen, attributed it to English superstition.

“How do you know that the English are superstitious?”

“Everybody knows it. Why, it is quite proverbial.” (Ibid, p. 199)

Well, whatever it was, it was a mysterious sense of power that clamped down the arms and legs of the besiegers. At her trial of condemnation in Rouen, the English would accuse Joan of sorcery and of casting spells against the English army. Well done, monk Marie, I think you got it. Wait, though, until you hear what the citizens of Orleans have to say about Joan. They beg to differ! Oh yes, to the citizens of Orleans, she was already, in their eyes, Saint Joan!

We wait patiently for Dunois’ return and pray that the English will not misbehave… but one fears the worst in this matter.

StM

April 30 – Now in Orleans, Joan of Arc gets into a shouting match with the English

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On April 30, Joan spoke first thing with The Bastard (Dunois), and, according to her page, Louis de Coutes, “Upon her return she was very angry because they had decided not to try an assault that day.”

And it was no wonder Dunois resisted the idea of an immediate assault. For the result coming out of the previous day’s fiasco, whereby Joan had been deceived into coming up the Loire on the far side of the river, was that her army was forced to march all the way back to Blois from where they had originated, which was the nearest crossing point. Dunois had talked Joan into staying at Orleans while her Captains went about correcting their egregious misjudgment. This put off the presence of the whole army for days. Still, Joan seemed quite ready to take whatever men at arms she had right then and drive the English out! She cared little for the “wise caution” of Dunois.

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Poor Dunois has had a rough go since the moment he and Joan “got off on the wrong foot,” so to speak with regard to that whole “side of the river” mess. Joan is not an easy personality to manage, but we must admire his political instincts. Dunois is both soldier and politician.

However, he has met no one like Joan of Arc. Here he has met a saint and a very determined saint at that who knows nothing of political correctness and, further, who despises indecisive military councils in the way she despises being led on the wrong side of the river! Yet, with some sympathy, we must appreciate that Dunois’ army still smarted from the humiliating defeat of the “Herrings,” in the not-so-distant-past. He wanted to be very careful about attacking before the King’s reinforcements had arrived from Blois. I suppose I would have been just as “cautious”! Forgive me, Joan!

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So, while waiting, Joan went out to survey the English positions of which several were within hearing distance of the city’s defenders. And here we find the poor girl getting into all sorts of trouble! As one might imagine, given Joan’s complete confidence in Our Lord’s assurance of victory and given her clear speaking simplicity, a rather odd, and even quaintly type of flare up occurred! Joan got into a bit of a yelling match with the enemy!

Louis de Coutes again tells us:

“She spoke with the English on the opposite embankment, telling them to go away in God’s name, otherwise she would drive them out. One of them, named The Bastard of Granville (from the French point of view a “renegade” Norman), traded insults with Joan, asking her if they really wanted them to surrender to a woman; he called the Frenchmen who were with Joan “worthless mackerels'” (a sexual insult).

That evening Joan, from the island of Belle-Croix, confronted more of the English situated at the rampart of the Tourelles:

“From there she spoke to Classidas (Glasdale) and to the other English in the Tourelles and told them that they should surrender for God’s sake and that their lives would then be saved. But Glasdale and those of his company answered in a very ugly way, insulting her and calling her “cowherd,” loudly shouting that they would burn her if they got hold of her.”

This was one promise that the English would keep.

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Joan reacted to these insults in a most touching manner. As any young person might do in such a rough environment and before such terrible personal affronts and insults, she turned away and cried. She was, after all, only seventeen years old. But do not take those tears to be indications of weakness Mr. Glasdale, or you shall regret it dearly. You, sir, will hear more from Joan of Arc. And I would take off that heavy armor if I were you. You will find it much easier to swim without it.

Tomorrow – Dunois leaves to help bring in the reinforcements from Blois. He will be gone until May 4th. Joan spends her time riding about Orleans. The town is completely buzzing with excitement! Hope has dawned in Orleans!

StM

Source: Pernoud, “Joan of Arc, Her Story”

April 29 – Joan arrives to Orleans and crossly scolds Dunois, The Bastard of Orleans

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Joan’s epic at Orleans begins on the evening of April 29.

As Joan made her way to Orleans from Blois with the royal army, she discovered that, without her knowledge, her Captains had decided to avoid the English positions by coming up the opposite side of the Loire River from the city. Joan was furious about this deception, for she had wished to go straight way and on their arrival to attack the English. John, Count of Dunois, Bastard of Orleans (“Bastard” being a perfectly acceptable title in medieval Christendom in order to appropriately delineate the various lines of heritage) and whose name would forever be linked in history to that of Joan of Arc’s, came out of Orleans to greet her. His first encounter was neither what he expected nor hoped for upon meeting his new boss. The following terse conversation ensued, as recounted in Dunois’ own words:

“Are you the Bastard?”

“Yes, I am, and I rejoice in your coming.”

“Are you the one who gave orders for me to come here, on this side of the river, so that I could not go directly to Talbot and the English?”

“I answered that I and others, including the wisest men around me, had given this advice, believing it best and safest; then Joan answered to me: “In God’s name, the counsel of Our Lord God is wiser and safer than yours. You thought that you could fool me, and instead you fooled yourself; I bring you better help than ever came to you from any soldier to any city; It is the help of the King of Heaven. This help comes not for love of me but from God Himself, who at the prayer of St. Louis and St. Charlemagne has had pity on the city of Orleans. He has not wanted the enemy to have both the body of the lord of Orleans and his city.” (Note: Dunois’ half brother Charles, Duke of Orleans, previously had been captured and was being held in an English prison.)

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At that moment, Dunois was about to be fully swept away by the Maid, Joan of Arc, and would become among her most loyal devotees. For at that very moment, as Joan finished scolding him about his lack of faith in Our Lord, King of Heaven and Earth, the wind, which had been contrary to their need to get boats across the river, changed its course and became favorable. They previously had been unable to bring the boats to the city; suddenly they could sail with ease.

Dunois never got over this moment. It had a lasting impact on him. At Joan’s trial of rehabilitation some 25 years later, where the King of France and Joan’s mother set about to officially clear Joan’s name (and from which the Pope’s representative declared her a martyr, condemning the clergy of her inquisitional trial), the now-aged Dunois testified on her behalf:

“I believe that Joan was sent by God and that her deeds in the war were the fruit of divine inspiration rather than of human agency…And this is why: firstly, I was at Orleans, which was then besieged by the English, when a certain rumor went around according to which a young woman called The Maid had passed the town of Gien…as I was in charge of the city, being lieutenant general in the field I sent …for fuller information about this Maid.” (Dunois then tells the story of her arrival and the wind).

“That is the reason why I think Joan, and all her deeds in war and in battle, were rather God’s work than man’s; the sudden change in the wind…”

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Well, Dunois eventually goes on to share many other reasons for believing Joan was sent by God. And others would tell of greater deeds still. Yes, there is no shortage of stories when it comes to Joan of Arc! We will hear more as she defeats the powerful English Army, captures Talbot and anoints a King! We will perhaps even tell of far greater marvels at her death.

But for now, on this day, April 29, let us simply stand for a moment with a war-wearied soldier, leading a city with no more hope, knowing that it is he and his army who stand as the last possible defense against the fall of the entire Kingdom of France. Let us stand by him as he takes a scolding for his lack of faith from his new leader, a seventeen-year-old young lady. Let us then continue to stand with him for a moment as he looks suddenly up and around. He, and we with him, sense that with Joan’s words something is already beginning to change. The wind has turned and this girls’ army may now move forward to its ultimate and glorious destiny. Let us forever stand with The Bastard and feel just a glimmer of hope resurrected in our hearts, the first glimmer of hope we have felt in months, if not years.

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Let us now watch with Dunois in silent joy and awe as Joan of Arc crosses the river with that wind at her back. Joan is entering Orleans.

Tomorrow – Our Maid engages in her famous yelling match with the English Army and their leader, Sir William Glasdale… should the English prove to be uncooperative, it promises to get a little rough…

StM

(Sources: Pernoud, “Joan of Arc, her Story” and “The Retrial of Joan of Arc.”)

Jeanne d’Arc enters Orléans on the evening of April 29

 

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586 years ago, what would be the most amazing week in the history of Western Civilization was about to commence. This evening, the evening of April 29, Joan of Arc is entering Orléans to free it from the English siege. She has completed her inquisition in Poitiers, was found to be a most pious and good Catholic girl, worthy of taking up arms for Charles VII, and is moving her army into Orléans. The next 10 days will be quite page turning for future students of history.

The English, who to this point have essentially crushed the French Kingdom, are about to be crushed themselves in Orléans by a seventeen year old illiterate woman from a country village. The English will be systematically routed from several bastilles around the city and finally smashed in their last hold up, the bastille of Les Tourelles, on May 7. They will leave Orléans on May 8. The English commander, William Glasdale, who speaks to her in the most degrading terms in a yelling match he will shortly get into with her, is just over one week from trying to flee Joan and drowning in his armor in the Loire River.

What seemed to be the inevitable path for Western Civilization was about to change. What we know of today as the modern nation of France, was created by Joan of Arc, beginning on the evening of April 29, when she enters Orléans.

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