Joan was a young peasant girl in southern France when she claimed to hear voices from a host of saints and angels. They charged her with a mission to save France by restoring the Dauphin to his rightful throne and driving the English enemy from French soil. It is a sign of the Dauphin’s desperation that he agreed to place this young maid in command of his faltering army. After inspiring the French to a string of victories, she paved the way for the Dauphin’s crowning as king of France.
But then fortune turned. Joan was captured by Burgundians who sold her to their English allies. After being imprisoned for a year she was tried and convicted by an ecclesiastical court on charges of witchcraft and heresy. On May 30, 1431, at the age of nineteen, she was burned at the stake. But soon her rehabilitation began. In 1456 an ecclesiastical investigation absolved her of all blame. She was canonized in 1920.
Joan of Arc is one of the most attractive and intriguing heroines of history—exemplar of an unusual brand of political holiness. She stood up before princes of the Church and state and refused to compromise her conscience or deny her special vocation. She stands for many women who were warned by men that their message or vocation contradicted “the will of God,” yet nevertheless persisted. Among canonized saints she enjoys the unusual distinction of having been previously condemned by the Church and executed as a heretic. Thus, she may legitimately serve not only as a patron of France but of all those holy souls vilified in their own time in the hope of eventual vindication.
“If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”
—Joan of Arc, asked by the court if she was in a state of grace