On June 1st, 1431, Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake…


It was on this day in 1431 that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy in Rouen, France. She was an ordinary French peasant girl, living during the Hundred Years War between France and England. When she was still a teenager she heard the voice of God telling her to join the battle and help defeat the English army. She performed a series of apparent miracles and persuaded the French army to let her command a group of soldiers. At the battle of Orleans she led the revitalized French army, bearing a flag with Jesus’ name written across it, and the English were defeated. She continued fighting battles until May 23, 1430, when she was captured by enemy soldiers. They turned her over to the church to be tried as a heretic, idolater, and sorcerer. Her enemies believed that the only way they could have lost in battle to a woman was if she had been using witchcraft.
Her trial lasted for months. Every day she was brought into the interrogation room where she was the only woman among judges, priests, soldiers, and guards. The judges hoped to trick her into saying something that would incriminate her as a witch or an idolater so they asked endless questions about all aspects of her life, in no particular order. They were especially interested in her childhood. And because the transcripts of the trial were recorded, we now know more about her early life than any other common person of her time.
Joan testified that she first started hearing divine voices when she was 13 while working in her father’s garden. When God commanded her to join the battle against the English she told her parents she was going to help her cousin deliver a baby. The judges asked her if she felt guilty for leaving her parents, and she said, “Since God commanded it, had I had a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers, had I been born a king’s daughter, I should have departed.”
When she wasn’t being interrogated she spent her time in prison chained to a wooden block. After months of questioning she was told that if she didn’t sign a confession she would be put to death. She finally signed it but a few days later she renounced the confession and on this day in 1431 she was burned at the stake. She was 19 years old.
She was mostly forgotten for about 400 years and then she was revived as an inspirational national figure during the French revolution. In 1920 she was canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict XV. She is the only person ever burned at the stake for heresy who later became a saint. The file on her at the Vatican is still sealed. She’s been the subject of more than 20 movies, as well as plays by writers such as Voltaire and George Bernard Shaw. More than 20,000 books have been written about her.

from the Poetry Almanac for June 1, 2021

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