Joan’s Triumph

Jeanne d`Arc listening to her voices (Leon Francois Benouville)

In the “Translator’s Preface” of Mark Twain’s biography of Joan of Arc, we read these words:

“To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man’s character one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours. Judged by the standards of one century, the noblest characters of an earlier one lose much of their luster; judged by the standards of today, there is probably no illustrious man of four or five centuries ago whose character could meet the test at all points. But the character of Joan of Arc is unique. It can be measured by the standards of all times without misgiving or apprehension as to the result. Judged by any of them, it is still flawless, it is still ideally perfect; it still occupies the loftiest place possible to human attainment, a loftier one than has been reached by any other mere mortal.”

Historiated initial depicting Joan (dated to the second half of the 15th century, Archives Nationales, Paris. Image: Wikipedia
Historiated initial depicting Joan (dated to the second half of the 15th century, Archives Nationales, Paris. Image: Wikipedia

The Saint’s legacy is still felt in France (even if she is almost forgotten in the United States). Nowhere is this more true than in Rouen, the place of her martyrdom. A tall cross in the Old Market Square beside a church dedicated to her life marks her martyr’s pyre. The city hosts museums, monuments, exhibitions, festivals, street names, and works of art in her honor. Having recently come to revere her as a spiritual heroine made our visit to Rouen particularly special.

Le Bûcher de Jeanne d’Arc

Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts has several art pieces depicting La Pucelle’s (the Maid’s) life, suffering, and death.

A gallery in Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts dedicated to Joan of Arc.

Joan was treated with unusual cruelty for a woman of that time. She was not allowed to be imprisoned with other women and had to suffer with predatory men guarding her day and night; that may explain her insistence on wearing men’s clothing while captive.

Joan of Arc, Prisoner in Rouen (Pierre Henri Revoil)
Joan of Arc is Put into Prison (Anonymous) – 19th century painting.

Her relentless, brutal, and callous interlocutor, Bishop Cauchon, was unafraid to use corrupt means to effect her condemnation and demise. He was even able to forcibly extract an admission of guilt from the weary and ailing teenager, which she promptly renounced once she regained her presence of mind.

Joan of Arc Led to the Execution (Isidore Patrois)

A couple of decades after Joan’s martyrdom, the French expelled the English from France. The political situation demanded a re-examination of Joan’s condemnation, and it was determined after a thorough investigation that her judgment as a heretic was arbitrary and that she was a political prisoner unjustly executed. The verdict of her rehabilitation trial was announced in Rouen at Saint-Ouen Abbey with Joan’s family in attendance.

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