It is no small thing to change one’s mind. We all come to our beliefs and ideas through experience, emotion and necessity. When we settle on something, it is difficult to deviate from the original plan or thought. Once I decide on a path, I am a bit stubborn about sticking with it. However, I have been on enough journeys in my life to know the more certain I am about things, the more likely I am to take an odd turn and end up on another fanciful flyte! Yes, the flyte of fancy…the great joy that is my life! This is the point at which I realize I prefer the process to the end product, and the journey to the destination. This is life…one long or not nearly long enough process. All the road maps and planning never prepare me for what I find. And you dear reader are wondering, what is all this mental meandering about? It is quite literally the preamble to my next installment on the maid from the French countryside, Saint Joan.
The cornerstone of my French adventure is Joan. It was her story that teased me into giving up a tropical vacation in Hawaii for a forced march across the country of France. Since we typically do not plan simple vacations that take in one special city and some surrounding sights, it is not hard to see how I could get so far away from the typical trip ticket from AAA. Our iteneraries tend to fill every moment with as many sensory probes as humanly possible. Once I found Joan and settled on France as the destination, I took this tendency of ours one step further by including the spiritual realm along with the physical. As mentioned in my initial blog about Joan de Arc, I chose to vacate the plans of a Polynesian vacation for an elaborate foray into the rich French landscape, just because I fell in love with Joan whilst reading a biography about her extraordinary life.
It was my interest in Joan that set my internal clock to things spiritual and historical. I can’t say that I ever had a burning desire to study the details of the Hundred Year War, or to delve into the history of the Holy Roman Church, especially since studying the Church of Rome as it was incubated in France also includes a tutorial on the Crusades. None of this was ever on my top ten list for anything. My mindset and world view were definitely challenged here! And quite interestingly, I found that there is a lot that I don’t know, and much more that I would love to understand within this particular exploration. Therefore the subtext of my vacation in France became more of a pilgrimage than a vacation.
A good way to maneuver this labyrinth of information and inspiration is to be logical, putting one foot in front of the other with the travelogue. I wanted to see the castle where Joan met the Dauphin, gained his favor and secured his permission to make war with the English. I wanted to see Orleans where, under her lead, the siege was lifted. I wanted to visit the cathedral in Reims where Charles (the Dauphin) was coronated King of France, with Joan in attendance. I wanted to look for any and all markers of her presence throughout France. While I knew I would not make it to Rouen where Joan was imprisoned and burned at the stake, I made it to the Normandy countryside, finding traces of her existence in a sweet little church in Bayeux.
Chinon: The first stop had to be Chinon. It was here at this fortress in 1429 that the teenager, Joan, journeyed to meet and influence Charles VII, the Dauphin. He was hiding out there since losing most of his Kingdom to the English and the treacherous French who sided with them. He was in line to become the King of France and it would be the maid Joan who inspired him to reclaim his kingdom and seize the crown. He knew that she was coming to see him and he hid himself among a crowd in the court. Joan recognized him and let this “would be king” know that she was there for him. He was impressed and took the precaution of having her tested and examined to determine whether or not she was truly sent by God. He became convinced of her true nature and her mission. Charles gave her escort and control over the soldiers that she would lead to Orleans. Under her direction the siege of Orleans was lifted. This was a dramatic turn of events in this long war with the English.
Our visit to Chinon was interesting. We had already been to many of the magnificent chateaux in the Loire Valley. There was the grand Chenonceau, the brooding Chambord along with the delightful gardens and view from Chaumont(enjoy a brief summary of these three in previous blogs). They are elegant residences with all the fanciful accoutrements of the aristocracy leading up to the French Revolution. But Chinon…it is a different sort. It is a real castle and fortress built for battle and war. It housed the heir to the French throne, but was not an elegant residence known for parties and hunts. We did not see any gold leaf or ornate tapestries. What we did see was a fortified edifice overlooking a medieval village. We traversed the narrow staircase to the bottom dungeon and prison…we viewed a reenactment of Joan of Arc’s visit to the Dauphin on a stone wall in a vacuous hall. This stronghold is situated on a defensible hill and was constructed in the 11th century. There is some rich Church history that played out there during the early Crusades when prisoners from the Order of the Knights Templar were imprisoned there.
The pivotal interest in Chinon is the role it played in first, the Hundred Year War, and secondly the introduction of Joan of Arc into that conflict. This war between the Kings of France and the Kings of England was all about the sovereignty of the French and the encroachment of the English into this land. Many battles and strategies took place at Chinon as it became the stronghold for the French and also for the Church. It is no wonder that Joan began her military career there! So, it was from Chinon that Joan gained support and license to march on Orleans and relieve this town of the siege from the English. And what did Joan have to offer Charles for this support? Only the crown and throne of France were at stake here. On to Orleans!