|Detail from a World War I-era recruiting poster showing St. Joan of Arc.|
Mark Twain called her: "Easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced."
G. K. Chesterton said of her: "She chose a path and went down it like a thunderbolt."
"By a prodigy unique in history,
People then saw a trembling monarch
Regain his crown and his glory
By means of a child's weak arm."
She was Saint Joan of Arc and all the superlatives that have been applied to her since her ignominious death at the stake on May 30, 1431 barely seem enough. Interestingly, thanks to the trial testimony which was scrupulously recorded, we have an incredibly detailed account of her life given under oath, something that is practically unique in history.
Here is an excerpt of her testimony as regards to the Voices which she heard that drove her, an ignorant peasant girl, to become the heroine of all France. When asked if she received the Sacrament of the Eucharist at any other Feast but Easter, Joan replied:
"Pass that by. I was thirteen when I had a Voice from God for my help and guidance. The first time I heard this Voice, I was very much frightened. It was mid-day, in the summer, in my father's garden. I had not fasted the day before. I heard this Voice to my right, towards the Church—rarely do I hear it without its being accompanied by a light. This light comes from the same side as the Voice. Generally it is a very great light. Since I cam into France I have often heard this Voice.If I were in a wood, I could easily hear the voice which came to me. It seemed to me to come from lips I should reverence. I believed it was sent to me from God. When I heard it for the third time, I recognized that it was the Voice of an Angel. The Voice has always guarded me well, and I have always understood it. It instructed me to be good and to go often to Church. It told me it was necessary for me to come into France. You ask me under what form this Voice appeared to me? You will hear on more of it from me this time. It said to me two or three times a week: 'You must go into France.' My father knew nothing of my going. The Voice said to me: 'Go into France!' I could stay no longer. It said to me: 'Go raise the siege which is being made before the city of Orleans. Go!' it added, 'to Robert de Baudricourt, Captain of Vaucouleurs: he will furnish you with an escort to accompany you.'And I replied that I was but a poor girl, who knew nothing of riding or fighting." [Taken from Murray: Jeanne D'Arc, Maid of Orleans, Deliverer of France]
Of riding and fighting Joan would learn, though it was said that she never actually drew a weapon in combat, only rode at the head of her army carrying her banner to rally the men. To get a sense of how Joan understood her mission, here is the text of a letter she sent to King Henry VI of England on March 22, 1429:
King of England,
Render account to the King of Heaven of your royal blood. Return the keys of all the good cities which you have seized, to the Maid. She is sent by God to reclaim the royal blood, and is fully prepared to make peace, if you will give her satisfaction; that is, you must render justice, and pay back all that you have taken. King of England, if you do not do these things, I am the commander of the military; and in whatever place I shall find your men in France, I will make them flee the country, whether they wish to or not; and if they will not obey, the Maid will have them all killed. She comes sent by the King of Heaven, body for body, to take you out of France, and the Maid promises and certifies to you that if you do not leave France she and her troops will raise a mighty outcry as has not been heard in France in a thousand years. And believe that the King of Heaven has sent her so much power that you will not be able to harm her or her brave army.
To you, archers, noble companions in arms, and all people who are before Orleans, I say to you in God's name, go home to your own country; if you do not do so, beware of the Maid, and of the damages you will suffer. Do not attempt to remain, for you have no rights in France from God, the King of Heaven, and the Son of the Virgin Mary. It is Charles, the rightful heir, to whom God has given France, who will shortly enter Paris in a grand company. If you do not believe the news written of God and the Maid, then in whatever place we may find you, we will soon see who has the better right, God or you.
Drawing of the Maid, Joan of Arc,
done during her lifetime. This
is the only known contemporary
image of St. Joan.
William de la Pole, Count of Suffolk, Sir John Talbot, and Thomas, Lord Scales, lieutenants of the Duke of Bedford, who calls himself regent of the King of France for the King of England, make a response, if you wish to make peace over the city of Orleans! If you do not do so, you will always recall the damages which will attend you.
Duke of Bedford, who call yourself regent of France for the King of England, the Maid asks you not to make her destroy you. If you do not render her satisfaction, she and the French will perform the greatest feat ever done in the name of Christianity.
Done on the Tuesday of Holy Week (March 22, 1429).
Hear the words of the Maid.
It is said that Joan died of smoke inhalation and that the fire burned only her feet and hands. Another fire was lit and this burned her corpse—all except her heart and intestines. A third fire would have to be kindled to reduce the vitals of the Maid to ash. Many of the relics associated with Saint Joan were destroyed by the atheistic fanaticism of the French Revolutionaries, but a few survive. A good account of what remains may be found in this post at Unam Sanctam Catholicam: Are there any relics of Joan of Arc?