Note: This is the second installment detailing my Joan of Arc pilgrimage in France. There are other posts which foreshadow this one and also flesh out some of my mental meandering along the way…read Thank You Joan, the beginning of it all, and Installment One , where we meet Joan at Chinon. Just click on the bolded references to link up.
ORLÉANS: This city on the banks of the Loire River was under siege from October of 1428 until April of 1429. The stranglehold on Orléans was lifted when Joan of Arc, with her army, mounted a successful challenge to the English. Joan, under divine guidance and counsel, showed military prowess and charismatic presence to the powers that would withhold the rights of the French people to rule their own land.
Imagine a young girl from the countryside being guided by God through the auspices of Michael the Archangel and a couple of Saints (Teresa and Margaret). The voices imploring her to push back the English and restore France as the holder and ruler of her own land and fortunes drove Joan to confront Man and Church! Modern analysis almost always concentrates on “the voices” with scientific explanations of the phenomenon. Was Joan a schizophrenic or a true mystic? Did she answer to the divine or was she suffering from a mental disorder? There is more to her than that, but these voices definitely defined her vision and passion.
I admit to a fascination with the voices. I am convinced of a spiritual realm that includes a powerful God speaking to a lone maid for the purpose of restoring order to a troubled nation. While this is a big deal, I really do believe that changing the course of history and pushing back the English was quite secondary to her display of sheer passion and obedience. The purity of Joan, and her willingness to accept the task at hand is inspiring to me and speaks volumes about faith and mission. It is important to note that not only was Joan thwarted by the political class, but she was caught in a battle between powerful forces within the Church. She listened to God; she prayed to God; she obeyed God! The cost to her mortal being was beyond imagination, as was the glory that awaited her for eternity.
One thing we do see if we look closely is her fierce courage and her love of her God and her country. She was a plain speaker who showed signs of being a brilliant military strategist. She also had the one special gift necessary for leading men into battle…she was inspiring. She “bet the farm” so to speak when promising Charles VII not only to relieve the siege of Orléans but to restore him to his rightful place on the throne of France. Joan was more than stubborn, she was relentless and certain! Her confidence in the validity of her vision and mission was monumental.
Our visit to Orléans was exciting for me. I saw Joan’s mark everywhere! I was able to cross the river that held this town hostage and walk the streets that Joan rode in on. The pathway is now paved and embellished with medallions, and the streets lined with banners…all proclaiming Joan as the Maid of Orléans! We made our way on the street pictured above to Holy Cross Cathedral. The beginnings of this beautiful church date back to 375 when St Evurtius, the Bishop of Orleans, built the first basilica in the style of early Rome. It is said that at the dedication while St Evurtius was consecrating the building, a hand appeared above him, in blessing.
The stained glass in Holy Cross Cathedral is quite beautiful and includes many scenes from the life of Joan of Arc. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the glass was created. The project begun in 1849 was not truly completed until 1990. The Joan of Arc narrative was not begun until 1893; and then, there was major damage done to the glass during the bombing raids of WWII. An initial restoration took place in 1950, and then a full one completed in 1990. Wandering the aisles, taking in the light through the stained glass, pausing to reflect on the scenes depicting St Joan, and admiring the lovely marble statue of Joan by Vermare all make for an exquisite respite inside this cathedral. There is also the St Joan of Arc Chapel which was dedicated in 1926. The Vermare statue was moved from behind the altar to this chapel in 1938. The beauty of Joan dressed in Carrera marble pierced my heart and made me so happy to be there in that place in that moment experiencing that joy. So much to see and not nearly enough time…the pictures are great reminders but do not compare to actually being there and experiencing the atmosphere and light in this lovely church.
From the time of the lifting of the siege in 1429 to modernity, there is so much about Joan to absorb. Her many incarnations include the liberator (the lifting of the siege of Orléans), and the martyr (the burning at the stake in Rouen), and then in 1920, the Saint (the Church that condemned her finally recognized her as Saint Joan of Arc). To say I was moved by our day in Orléans does not quite cover the elegance of the experience. My heart still speeds up as I recall this “flyte of fancy” when I was privileged to some small glimpses of greatness. These little side trips off the main road and into the paths of one’s mind are what travel is all about. It leaves one changed and energized to reach outside the norm…to let go of the map…to wander into the nooks and crannies of all the places yet undiscovered…real and imagined! AND there is more to come…KEEP YOUR FORK (take this link to a previous post to understand my fascination with The Fork)!