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, 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!


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

Anonymous said...

This is one of the greatest tragedies in terms of Relics.

What makes this an even more bitter pill to swallow, however, is that the Joan was able to save France from conquest by the English through her efforts (I know it took a few decades after her death for France to completely kick the English out of their country but it would never have happened if it wasn't for Joan). She could have easily be seen a figure of French nationalism so you would think the Revolutionaries would try to save the relics associated with Joan.

The fact that they instead destroyed those relics is just sickening.

Anonymous said...

So many... are so wrong. There are existing relics of Blessed Joan but they are protected as while true, that over the centuries- many evil persons have destroyed what they could- but far from all. There are ( and rightfully protected and hidden ) relics such as locks of hair from when Jehanne cut her hair off. Her hair was to mid back length, dark and thick. Many of the locks do exist but in these times it is not safe to bring such things into the open.

Knight of Jehanne said...

Recently, Jehanne's ring was auctioned in the U.K. and returned to France. Then, the British tried to get it back under the pretense that it was 'exported illegally' to which the French replied, "Come and get it!" The ring unfortunately was purchased by the largest amusement center and is displayed for money. As the creator of this blog has expressed such dedication and understanding, if not out right love for Jehanne, you and those who have faith can go here to see that there are other relics that have been protected, that there is ongoing communication with certain persons in France to have them returned to a very Holy, Sacred place which Jehanne loved.

Unknown said...

I too am fascinated with her - her faith, her courage and her mystical experiences which appear to me to be authentic

I made some research for a podcast on her and found that even though she underwent an ecclesial show trial that ignored the inquisitions processes which would ensure natural justice... we still have a record thanks to the fact that the Vatican overthrew its procedures, in its investigation for her process to be declared a saint

The trial record contains statements from Joan that the eyewitnesses later said astonished the court, since she was an illiterate peasant and yet was able to evade the theological pitfalls, the tribunal had set up to entrap her. The transcript's most famous exchange is an exercise in subtlety: "Asked if she knew she was in God's grace, she answered, 'If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace.'" The question was a scholarly trap. Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God's grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have been charged with heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt. Bishop Cauchon denied Joan's appeals to the Pope, which should have stopped his proceeding.

It seems that the Bishop had been 'bought 'by the English

The Blog and the podcast link if you are interested

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone !
I just came across this blog, and would like to let you know that I have seen a relic of Saint Joan of Arc at One of the Catholic relic displays... a priest that visits churches by invitation with over 500 relics. I believe this is an authentic relic because when I Touched it I sense that it was something special for one of my nieces, for some reason her name came to mind connected with Saint Joan of Arc. When I relay the message to my niece of the Strong feeling of connection of the 2 of them she immediately broke down, and told me that she always venerated Saint Joan of Arc .She had studied her during catholic school and always admire her courage and strength. I felt st Joan was telling me she was my niece guardian angel. If you want to know more about these relics ; Google relics of the church