« La vérité est solitude. L’agonie est solitude. »
– Huguette Leblanc, extrait de ‘La nuit des immensités’
Who hasn’t heard of Joan of Arc? Yes, France’s very own peasant-born heroine who led the French army in the Hundred Years’ War (some say under the guise of a man), a very bold move which achieved many victories for the French. Sadly fate was not on her side, for she was captured by the Burgundians at Compiègne, and was sold off to the English by Duke Philip of Burgundy for a handsome amount.
Her unfair trial, which was headed by Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, was politically motivated and financed by the English government. The unsurprising result: Joan was found guilty of “insubordination and heterodoxy” and was burned at the stake for heresy. However, twenty-five years after her execution, a re-examination of her trial led by an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III found Joan to be innocent. Joan was elevated to the status of a martyr and is now recognized as one of the patron saints of France.
Now I am no historian, but I don’t need to read volumes of historical accounts on Joan’s life, death and martyrdom to know that she’s got balls. In fact, she’s exactly like a real-life medieval version of Éowyn of Rohan from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. These two remarkable women are definitely somewhere at the top of my ‘Women Who Kick Ass’ list. Perhaps in those days one couldn’t fully trust men to defend the country, which forced bold women such as Joan to rise up to the occasion, even if it means having to disguise as a page, cut her hair short, wear manly clothes, learn how to use a sword, and ride into the battlefield, all of which were huge no-no’s in 15th century Catholic France.
Guided by what she claimed to be revelations from the saints above, Joan clearly fully understood that desperate times called for desperate measures and required the necessary transgression of certain boundaries set for the fairer sex. For Joan everything that she did was in the interests of the country and had nothing to do with the fact that she was a woman, but her executors discredited all that she’d done and pointed everything that was wrong with her to the fact that she was one. How sad it is to be burned alive for all her sacrifices, to be abandoned by the people she’s helped before (I’m pointing my finger at you, Charles VII of France), to be condemned for her sex. Had she been born a man things would certainly have played out differently, but sadly few men were born with her courage and her firm sense of patriotism.
Joan was burned at the stake on 30th May 1431 at the Vieux-Marché in Rouen, France. This site is now a robust fresh market selling fresh flowers, fruits, and meat on weekends, but a church dedicated to Sainte Jeanne was consecrated just next to the market. On our way to Mont Saint Michel back in Spring of 2011, my friends and I made a pit stop at Rouen to check out these sites, and it was quite remarkable to see a carousel and fresh produce being sold on the very site where Joan was burned alive, as if this execution never happened before.
Perhaps some of Joan’s last feelings at the stake as she was engulfed by the hot flames that would soon consume her were that of peace and serenity at her expedited reunion with God, and maybe that of loneliness and disappointment too, for who wouldn’t lose faith in humanity after being executed for doing something right for one’s country, one’s King, and one’s people?
I thought her martyrdom was perhaps the best apology the Church could give her for failing to intervene in the trials earlier; it was like a bouquet of roses placed on the grave of the dead, signifying “We haven’t yet forgotten you. And we’re sorry for what we have (not) done.” But the photo below might suggest that residents of Rouen still feel haunted by Joan of Arc and her tragic ending.
Maybe martyrdom isn’t a big enough apology? (Just sayin’.)
[This post is a contribution to Ese’s Weekly Photo Challenge on ‘Loneliness’.]