JOAN OF ARC
France|May 2020
As May 2020 marks the centenary of Jean d’Arc’s canonisation, Helen Parkinson finds out how a peasant girl became a military leader
Helen Parkinson

An imposing gilded statue of an armour-clad young woman riding valiantly into battle takes pride of place in Paris’ Place des Pyramides. That warrior is none other than Joan of Arc, France’s ultimate heroine; an illiterate peasant girl from Vosges who defied societal constraints to become one of l’Hexagone’s patron saints. But her rise to sainthood was punctured by scandal, deceit and, ultimately, murder.

Making of a legend

Joan was born in 1412 in the village of Domrémy, east of Paris, amid the tumult of the Hundred Years’ War. Her father, Jacques, was a tenant farmer, while Isabelle, her mother, took care of Joan and her four siblings, instilling strong Catholic beliefs in her children. During Joan’s childhood, most of north-east France was occupied by the English; Domrémy was subject to several raids and many villagers abandoned their homes.

At 13, Joan experienced her first visions. Testifying at a later trial, she admitted to seeing three saints, Michael, Catherine and Margaret, who told her to drive out the English and take the Dauphin, Charles, to be crowned king. She believed it to be a message sent by God instructing her to save France.

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