May 2012: St. Joan of Arc

One of our most famous saints, Joan of Arc, was a French heroine who was put on trial and burned at the stake at the age of 19 in the year 1431, but she was not recognized as a saint until nearly 500 years after her death, when Pope Benedict XV canonized her in 1920.

Joan was a simple peasant girl who lived during the time of the Hundred Years War, when the English were conquering France one town at a time. She lived during an era when most of the rural population could not read or write, and women were not allowed to become soldiers, but with God’s guidance she commanded an entire army to victory.

At the age of 14 Joan began to see visions of three saints: Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch. Over time these saints revealed to Joan her mission: save the French city of Orleans from the English, ensure that the French prince was crowned king of France, and to drive the English out of her country.

Joan proved to be an inspiring leader to the French soldiers. Wearing white armor and holding a flag with the symbol of France and the words Jesus and Mary on it, she was able to claim Orleans for France and went on to defend several more French towns, in addition to seeing Charles VII assume the throne as the king of France.

Soon after these victories Joan was captured and sold to the English, who put her on trial. The pro-English bishop tried to get Joan to deny that she had seen visions of the saints and heard their voices urging her to lead an army. Taking advantage of her inability to read and write, her accusers made her sign a document denying the existence of these voices, but afterwards Joan refuted the document and the court condemned her to death.

After the Hundred Years War ended twenty-five years later, Pope Callixtus III authorized a retrial of Joan of Arc, which declared her innocence. Over the centuries she was recognized as a martyr of the Church, even before her canonization in the early 20th century. Saint Joan of Arc’s feast day is May 30.