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, but not of the first class; 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 Joan 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.
We should also mention the Joan of Arc Chapel on the campus of Marquette University in Wisconsin. This extraordinary structure was originally constructed in France in the 15th century in the village of Chasse-sur-Rhône, south of Lyon. According to tradition, St. Joan of Arc visited the chapel and prayed there on March 9, 1429 after meeting King Charles VII of France, standing on a flat stone before the altar and praying near the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Afterwards, she knelt down and kissed the stone which, according to legend, has ever since been colder than the surrounding stones. The chapel fell into neglect after the French Revolution. After World War I, the chapel was discovered by a French architect who lovingly found a new home for the chapel in Brookville, New York on the estate of a railway magnate's daughter, and the structure was subsequently dismantled and shipped to the United States. The chapel underwent significant restorations and, upon the death of the patron, was donated to Marquette University. So the chapel was once again dismantled, this time shipped to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it stands today. If you are in Milwaukee, you have the opportunity to pray in a shrine once graced by the presence of the Maid.
St. Joan of Arc, pray for us, and pray for France!