France In Love, or Happy Birthday Joan of Arc

France has fallen in love with a lot of ladies. It’s a pattern throughout history really – the country notices a girl…it’s intrigued…maybe a bit skeptical at first. Then familiarity leads to undeniable interest, as respect from a distance grows into a need to be closer and become part of her world, followed by unbridled love, which often morphs into flat-out idolatry.

That’s why our cathedral in Paris is called “Our Lady”, why our patron saint is the protective Geneviéve, and why even today the French Republic is represented by Marianne, a national symbol of liberty and freedom. They take their women seriously here in France, as is evident in Delacroix’s 1830 “Liberty Leading the People”:

I admit, it’s not thoroughly clear why she had to be topless here. We’ll chalk it up to the Euro lifestyle.

Among all of France’s love affairs however, there’s a teenage farm girl from the war-torn 15th century that will always go down as one of its favorites. At the tender age of sixteen she approached the king of France, claiming that voices from Heaven had urged her to join the fight against the English army. The giggles and sniggering of the royal court were promptly squelched when they noticed that the king wasn’t laughing. In a time where religion was the be-all and end-all, battles were considered to be won or lost at the hands of the Lord himself, and the sovereign wondered if this little girl was indeed the miracle he needed to win the relentless Hundred Years’ War. Joan of Arc was, quite possibly, sent from God.

She didn’t know how to ride a horse. She knew nothing of battle. Contrary to so many depictions of her, she didn’t even like carrying a sword and often led her soldiers by simply holding a banner representing their noble crusade. But she somehow possessed all the courage and purpose of a seasoned commander and managed to secure victory after victory, and with each success she was welcomed further into the hearts of the collective public. It couldn’t last forever though. At age 19 she was captured, sold to the enemy, and held prisoner in the town of Rouen, in a tower that I was lucky enough to visit over the summer.

A short walk from the tower is the place where she was famously burned at the stake for being a heretic. On the left my touristy pic; on the right German painter Hermann Stilke offers a more poetic view.

 

In a tragic case of better-late-than-never, the church soon re-examined the corrupt trial against her and decided she was in fact innocent of the charges. This validated her memory and fueled her legacy as one of a heroine, someone who defied the odds and helped France survive the longest war Europe had ever seen. This reverence culminated in the Pope canonizing Joan of Arc in 1920, officially securing her place in history as well as elevating her to Christian sainthood. It’s for this reason she can be seen throughout Paris, often clad in armor and looking awfully determined, as in this statue inside Notre Dame Cathedral.

While the exact day of her birth was not recorded, it has been speculated that she was born on January 6th, 1412. Which of course merits a warm expression to one of France’s most intriguing and enduring ladies – Happy 600th Birthday Joan of Arc!

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About A French Frye in Paris

An American living in Paris, savoring the city one secret at a time. View all posts by A French Frye in Paris

19 responses to “France In Love, or Happy Birthday Joan of Arc

  • hmunro

    Joyeaux anni, indeed! Wonderful summation, Corey — especially when enriched by your photos. Though now you have me wondering why some French heroines can’t seem to keep their tops on, while others are revered for their saintlike chastity. Hmmm.

    Anyway … welcome back! Great post.

  • adavidsonfisher19

    Nice piece Corey! I have always been fascinated with the story of Joan of Arc. I remember in Jr. High School writing a report on her for history class. She was such an intriguing person with an intriguing life and, in my opinion, got a raw deal in the end. Being burned at the stakes was a bit harsh, I think. Sheesh- Commanding the armies into winning battles and that was her reward? That’s so European :) I have been wanting to go to Rouen for a long time and your photos only remind me of that!

    Ashley

    • Corey Frye

      Thanks for the comment Ashley! If you were already studying her in Jr High then you got a head start on me by about ___ years (feel free to put whatever number feels comfortable). ;)

      Definitely visit Rouen, it was breathtakingly charming and old-world, full of cute streets and Gothic architecture. I hope to go back again soon. I actually have a ton of photos from our trip that I should’ve posted months ago. I’ll try to put some up for you in the near future. Hope things are good with the house, take care!

  • A Frog at Large

    It’s also possible that she was burnt at the stake for wearing men’s clothing i.e. trousers. There were about 70 charges against her, most of them carrying a death sentence so she was never going to do too well.

    I don’t know why Marianne has her boobs out either, presumably the artist had a bit of a thing for it.

    Great post by the way.

    • Corey Frye

      Thanks a lot Frog at Large. Yeah the church was definitely creative with the variety of possible sins in those days. I’m guessing just being an outspoken woman at all would’ve gotten you in hot water.

      Your Marianne comment made me laugh: I love picturing Delacroix being asked why he painted her topless and him replying “Hey, I’m just into that sort of thing, relax.” haha

      Thanks for your comment & thanks for reading!

  • Dena

    I absolutely loved this!

  • mpolacko

    Great informative post about Joan of Arc and interesting pics.

    You may want to check out one that I did of her today: http://polacko.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/joan-of-arc-for-president/

    • Corey Frye

      Thanks, interesting what you posted about Joan being caught in a political tug of war this year. Politicians being politicians I guess. Thanks for reading and best of luck with your blog.

  • Phil Van Nostrand

    Great post! Love the humor and wit!

  • Phil Van Nostrand

    Sorry, meant to write more. Love the humor and wit, AND I love your obvious interest in history. This causes someone like me, who generally doesn’t seek out historical stories, to have a deeper and greater appreciation. Good work and many thanks!

    • Corey Frye

      Thanks a lot Phil. I was never really into history until I moved here and discovered how rich and intriguing France’s past has been. I think for me the real interest is making connections between the stories and their present-day remnants, whether it’s a piece of architecture or a leftover tradition, and there’s certainly no shortage of those around here. Thanks for reading and take care.

  • elle marie gray

    I’m glad you’re back, Corey! Great post. You might find the French movie “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928 – The Criterion Collection) worth watching. Hope you had a great holiday.

  • elle marie gray

    LOL, cool if you do watch it. At least you’ll get to concentrate on the movie action instead of getting caught up in the subtitles.

  • dancingbeastie

    How refreshing to read a straightforward piece in praise of Joan of Arc, after the way her image has been hijacked by the far right in France. Interestingly, she is a figure who has been manipulated for political ends since her first appearance, so ‘plus ca change’ I guess. I’ve always been a big fan of hers (and the Scots were on her side in the 100 yrs war!) and remember being very struck by that statue of her in Notre Dame, complete with fresh flowers at her feet. If you wanted to follow up your interest, there is a scholarly and utterly fascinating book about her (and the many interpretations of her) by Marina Warner, called ‘Joan of Arc, the Image of Female Heroism’. Published years ago but worth seeking out on a wet weekend. OK, lecture over – thanks for a great post!

    • Corey Frye

      Thanks a lot Beastie. Yeah it’s quite interesting how six centuries later she still has enough symbolic power to be used as a political tool. I guess it would be like U.S. candidates fighting over who “owns” Davy Crockett. I didn’t know Scotland supported Joan of Arc, but it would make sense if they weren’t keen on England at the time. And thanks for the book recommendation! Take care.

  • adavidsonfisher19

    Hey Corey-I just found this quote supposedly made by Joan of Arc. Very interesting and a bit foretelling and scary.

    “One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”

    Ashley

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