Joan of Arc is a national heroine of France and is sometimes called the, "Maid of Orleans." She was born on January 6, 1412 in Domremy, a village on the border of Champagne on the Meuse River, in Eastern France. At the time she was born, the Hundred Years War was in its last quarter and France was suffering from famine, looting and occupation by the English.
Joan was the third of five children born to the farmer, Jacques d'Arc and his wife Isabelle. As a child she was proficient in her household chores and caring for her father's herds in the fields. Although she could not read or write, she often attended church, and received the sacraments. She often prayed to God and liked to hear stories about the lives of the saints. She was a little girl whose heart was filled with joy and laughter and all knew her said she was a good girl.
At about the age of thirteen, Joan began to have visions and hear voices identified later as those of Sts. Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Alexandria, and Margaret of Antioch. They told her that she was given a special mission to save France from the English, and insure the rightful king was crowned. Her voices told her she was to help drive the English out of France. From then on, she promised to stay a virgin so that she could always serve God, and belong to him alone.
When she was sixteen, she secretly left home and went to Vaucouleurs where she asked an army official to let her fight the English. At first, he just laughed at her, but changed his mind when she accurately predicted a French defeat. At that point, her dangerous mission began. She joined the battle, dressed in male clothing with hair cropped off to protect herself and keep away those who might be tempted with bad thoughts. Her fellow soldiers said that no one could be more chaste than La Pucelle, which meant the maid, the virgin. She arrived at Chinon where she met the king and told him of her heavenly mission to lead and her need for soldiers. He remained unconvinced and hesitated to accept her until after she satisfied a panel of church officials who questioned her for several weeks and found nothing improper in her intentions.
She was placed in command of soldiers with whom she advanced to Orleans. There she defeated the English and cleared the road so king Charles VII could travel to Rheims. He was crowned in the cathedral with Joan at his side holding her standard which bore the names of Jesus and Mary. When this was accomplished she felt her mission was completed and she asked to be released from the king's service. The king however refused her request. Later, she was wounded during an unsuccessful attack on Paris for which she was criticized. In her last battle, she and her company had left Compiegne on a sortie. They were not successful, and before they could retreat to safety, the drawbridge they were to use was raised too soon leaving Joan and some of her soldiers outside with the enemy. She was taken prisoner by the Duke of Burgundy who sold her to the English. In jail, she was ridiculed and accused of heresy and being a witch.
After her nineteenth birthday, she was tried on charges of heresy. She answered the questions intelligently with her head high. This only angered the judges. They tried to make her deny her visions and confess that she used witchcraft to achieve her victories since they said no girl could not have accomplished them by herself. She was threatened several times, and after intensive questioning, she denied her visions. Later, her saints visited her and said they were angry that she had betrayed them. At that moment she knew what she did was wrong and that it was not worth living if she denied their heavenly help. She then announced that she did not deny her visions and that she had received her mission from God. With that she was condemned as a relapsed heretic. The next day, she was led to the market place in Rouen to be burned at the stake. As the flames rose, she called out the name of Jesus and surrendered her soul to God. She died on May 30, 1431, and was named a saint in 1920.
Joan fulfilled her mission in life. She saved the city of Orleans, crowned the rightful king, and was instrumental in driving the English out of France. Although she did not live to see the last part of her mission fulfilled, the French still consider her the key to the English defeat. Assured with the help of the saints and the strength of God, Joan was able to accomplish her mission. We can also rely on the saints and God's strength to carry on God's work here on earth.