Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Are there any relics of Joan of Arc?

St. Joan of Arc is undoubtedly one of my favorite saints of all time. The more I study her, the more I am convinced that her story is one of the most amazing, miraculous accounts in all of human history. I confess that there have been many times when I have been brought to tears reading the excerpts of her trial or contemplating her virtue - in the holy Maid of Orleans one truly understands what it means to say that the beauty of a soul transfigured in Christ's image is the most perfect and beautiful thing this side of heaven. There are other saints who did greater works than she, were more learned than she or perhaps holier than she, but the great drama of her life and death, the exceptional wit and wisdom she displayed before her captors and the astonishing degree of virtue she displayed in all her undertakings put her in a category apart. The Catholic Church recognizes two orders of saints - the Blessed Virgin, who alone is worthy of hyperdulia, (literally "super veneration") and the rest of the saints, those who receive dulia (veneration). But for me, there are three classes - there is the Blessed Virgin, Joan, and then everybody else.

Seeing that Joan is such an exceptional saint, it is interesting to ask if there is any altar or shrine upon this earth where we can go and venerate the relics of this holy martyr. Are there any relics of St. Joan of Arc left?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, a good number of relics of St. Joan of Arc did survive after her execution in 1431; since she was burned at the stake, and at the time was condemned as a witch and a heretic and not exonerated until a generation later, there are no physical remains of her body. However, many second-class relics, objects which St. Joan touched or wore, survived and were venerated very highly in France for the next several centuries.

Unfortunately, these relics have long since disappeared, not lost or misplaced through the vicissitudes of time, but intentionally destroyed by the malice of evil men, none other than the French Revolutionaries. For a list of the relics left behind by Joan and their subsequent fate, I do not think it remiss to turn to Mark Twain, who wrote an excellent fictional (but very accurate) biography of Jane that he spent twelve years researching. Twain begins by telling us about the fate of Joan's standard she carried into battle and goes on to speak of her other relics:

"[The standard] remained [in the cathedral of Orleans] for three hundred and sixty years, and then was destroyed in a public bonfire, together with two swords, a plumed cap, several suits of state apparel, and other relics of the Maid, by a mob in the time of the Revolution. Nothing which the hand of Joan of Arc is known to have touched remains in existence except a few preciously guarded military and state papers which she signed, her pen being guided by her clerk or her secretary...a boulder exists from which she is known to have mounted her horse when she was once setting out upon a campaign. Up to a quarter of a century ago [c. 1860] there was a single hair from her head still in existence. It was drawn through the wax of a seal attached to the parchment of a state document. It was surreptitiously snipped out, seal and all, by some vandal relic-hunter and carried off. Doubtless it still exists, but only the thief knows where" (Mark Twain, Joan of Arc (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1988), pp. 314-315).

The French Revolutionaries committed many crimes and blasphemies - the beheadings, the regicide, he smashing of churches, killing of priests and nuns, worship of Reason and much more. But the intentional destruction of the relics of St. Joan of Arc, by the French themselves, is a shocking display of ingratitude and, in my opinion, a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance; it would be as if the Irish should someday rise up in atheistic fury and cast the bones of St. Patrick into the sea. On the Day of Judgment, though the Revolutionaries will be found guilty of many things, I think this destruction of her relics is what the French Revolutionaries will be ashamed of most when they behold her in glory standing behind the throne of God with all of the other saints and angels.

There is a helmet in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art that may have been worn by Joan, but it is not provable. The same is true of a sword kept in the Museum of Dijon in France. A charred bone fragment kept for years in Chinon was attributed to Joan, but testing has debunked this (the bone actually belonged to a mummy, of all things). This webpage, managed by the St. Joan Center, has a lot of great information on some possible relics of Joan's that may be in existence, such as a rock that she prayed on and kissed and other things associated with her. I encourage you to check it out if you are interested in history and relics.

St. Joan of Arc, pray for us, and pray for France!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

You should put up La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc by Dreyer among your "non-soulendagering movies." I do hope, and believe, you've seen it, but if otherwise what are you waiting for?

Angelicbob said...

I second what Anonymous said!

happyhockeymom said...

Other than Mark Twain's book, what other books and reading do you recommend for someone who knows very little of this Saint or the historical circumstances of the time?

BONIFACE said...

I don't have a non soul endangering movie list, but I should...I have not seen the film. I probably should!

Hockeymom - I have only seen a few books on Joan - most of them tend to make her into a proto-feminist; I'm sure there are older ones that are good, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. Twain's book is actually the best I have ever read, though it is written as a novel, it is very historically accurate.

Anonymous said...

Wow, so you haven't seen it? Well aren't you in for a ride. I'm almost getting giddy all over of happiness for you. I wish I could relive seeing it again for the first time. Don't forget to tell us what you thought of it!

Tminusfun said...

Thank you for this wonderful post.

Most of the books written about St. Joan either paint her as some sort of proto-feminist, or-finding her testimony to the power of God in history unpalatable to their modernist palate-simply smudge history with their own favoured brand of revisionism until the brave, pius, and naturally intelligent Figure of the historical Joan is blurred into a naive peasant girl with a sword and a death wish.

I would really suggest reading the trial transcripts found in Regine Pernoud's "Joan of Arc: By Herself And Her Witnesses". Dr. Pernoud had written several books about St. Joan, three of them are available in English. I recommend them all.

Joan wasn't afraid of her inquisitors, and her answers to their questions, intended to trick her into confessing heresy, reveal just how clever, brash, and even funny she was.

When asked if she knew of any Burgundians in her home village,she said with a note of dark humour: "I knew only one Burgundian there and I could have wished his head cut off - however, only if it pleased God."

It's amazing how a simple, genuine faith can so easily demolish the convoluted sophism of those learned men who with to twist knowledge for their own gain, and how delightful it is to read the words of a headstrong saint see so easily through their traps.

Other great books include:
-Joan of Arc: A Spiritual Biography by Siobhan Nash-Marshall
-Hillaire Belloc's "Joan of Arc"
-John Beever's "Saint Joan of Arc"
-"Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint" by Stephen W Richley in which a former U.S. Army officer favourably critiques Joan's skills as a field commander

Steve said...

"There is the Blessed Virgin, Joan, and then everybody else." Amen.

As far as movies go, there is only one that makes Joan "live" and that is Joan the Maid - The Battles / The Prisons by Jaques Rivette