HUMAN annals present to us no scene more charming and beautiful than that of the little maid of Domremy awestruck at the first visitation of her angelic friends, the summons of their voices. Great artists have labored to reproduce that scene and some have achieved a striking effect. But still the heart dreams something better, more august and tender; through the mists of time we seek the little garden-close beside the village church where Jeanne is with her sheep—a detail as of Bethlehem! Of a sudden the Angelus tinkles, the deeper shadows are filled with a strange light amid which appear celestial presences. The rapt and wondering child sinks to her knees as the bright visitants surround and speak to her. Of these Marguerite and Catherine manifest a special tenderness; they touch her hair with loving caresses, kiss her, and in sweet undertones receive her innocent vows. But always the Archangel Michael, appearing like a grand chevalier, urges her to go to the relief of France and the succor of the king.
"Alas! I am only a poor ignorant girl," pleads Jeanne, "and I know not how to ride a war-horse or lead soldiers in battle."
Again the insistent command: "Go, go, daughter of God; (Fille de Dieu: this manner of address by the Voices gave signal offense to the judges to whom Jeanne related the vision.) fear nothing, for I shall be at your side to aid you."
The lights fade, lights of heaven and of earth, the Voices die out, the apparitions vanish, and Jeanne is alone on her knees, wrestling with the will of God like Jacob of old—aye, like One greater, in the garden of Gethsemane.
But during these visitations, which continued through five years, Jeanne often wished that her heavenly friends would take her away with them!
We do not deceive ourselves in recalling this ineffable scene, this touching apologue, which brings us near to the Divine and teaches us one of the secrets of heaven.
Yes, God stoops to the simple and pure of heart, ignoring the proud, the vain of knowledge, the ostentatious of sanctity, the seekers of worldly honor and preferment. Of this humble child He makes an instrument to defeat the ends of kings, statesmen, generals, prelates, and to change the course of history.
Domremy and Bethlehem!—are they not linked together in the reverent thought, the instinctive faith of all simple hearts?
Of this part of Jeanne's legend the good heart can only affirm, Credo quia incredibile est! For myself I find it easier to believe than to reject. The Visions and the Voices are attested by her pure and saintly life; by her several predictions, all of the first order;
by her recognition of the disguised king at Chinon; by her untaught and marvelous leadership in arms, actually without historic parallel; by her unalterable belief in her heavenly counselors, affirmed in her last cry from amidst the flames.
To-day the careless tourist or devout pilgrim finds a grand basilica at Domremy, dedicated not long ago to Sainte Jeanne d'Arc Notre Dame des Armies —a new title for her, expressive of the militant patriotic spirit which she has come to typify to all France.
This fine church, a national tribute, stands on a hill overlooking the Meuse and the tiny village now called Domremy-la-Pucelle. It was thirty-three years building, and one's first thought on seeing it is that it would do honor to a large city. But measuring by proper scale, what city of France may claim a more august suffrage than the birthplace of the Maid? It has scarcely grown at all since her day; a group of small stone houses, tiled or thatched, looking much as they did when Jeanne went in and out amongst them. This too is in consonance with the higher thought. It is even so with Bethlehem. A spirit in these places repels growth, expansion, vulgarization; jealous of their unique fame, they cling to the old littleness, the old humility, and thus preserve the contrast which ennobles them.
The Basilica du Bois Chesnu—so named from the wood where Jeanne and her companions played about the fairies' tree and where she sometimes heard her Voices—is a fine example of French architecture. Of
design it unites elements of the religious and the heroic. To it the forest lends a frame, a setting of incomparable beauty—the forest which first gave men the idea of a cathedral. The facade, of marble and blue granite, is adorned with a graceful bell-tower topped with a delicate spire. Beautiful is the interior with its three aisles, ceilings painted in celestial blue, pictures, mosaics, statues, decorations, and the rich symbolism displayed throughout. I must particularize the mural paintings of J. P. Laurens; they are of great size and depict the several stages of Jeanne's career with an artistic force and brilliancy, which have not been surpassed. The allegorical figures on each side of the main altar, "For Faith" and "For Country," are notably effective in conception and remarkable specimens of mosaic work.
Of great beauty, both in design and execution, are the several stained glass windows; they were given by some wealthy families tracing back to the ancienne noblesse. The eternal expectation cherished by these worthy people is modestly indicated by this inscription on one of the subjects:
"I have come to exalt the blood of France."
Jeanne's words, indeed, applied to their motive.
One is apt to lose patience at the too obvious attempt of certain royally pretending persons to appropriate Jeanne d'Arc for their political advantage. One sees her framed up in prints with members of the inexhaustible Orleans family, as if she were a poor but deserving relation! Alas! there is nothing in
the legend of Jeanne d'Arc to make us love kings the more for her sake; rather the contrary, I submit.
Besides the decorations of golden laurel crowns and fleurs-de-lis in the central ceiling, we note one on the side aisles, a heraldic piece showing a gold crown supported with silver swords and ornamented with fleurs-de-lis. This is the coat-of-arms with which Charles VII ennobled the family of Jeanne d'Arc. A pretty vanity enough. What a pity that one cannot look upon it without recalling the ingratitude, the treachery, the abandonment in her supreme need, which she also received from that royal hand!
Andre Cellar's statue, a work of pure and noble conception, stands in the entrance to the basilica; he has depicted Jeanne kneeling, with hand at ear, listening to her Voices. It may be said, parenthetically, that the Maid's fame is vastly indebted to the genius of French artists, who have been unwearied in celebrating her. During the past century they have produced an unrivaled body of art on this one subject, masterpieces that may challenge the future, many of which belong to our time.
The Maid's old home, authentic, wonderfully preserved, is the most interesting monument at Domremy, equally with the venerable church where she was baptized—you are shown the very font and hope it may be so—and where as child and young girl she said her simple prayers. In its great age still upstanding, the house of the d'Arc family seems to breathe of the sturdy stock that once gathered about
the hearthstone, and of the girl who went forth from these walls to astonish the world.
These are high points in our pilgrimage, thoughtful reader, indubitable places that have known her look, her presence, her living breath. Sacred reliquaries that touch the heart and draw the tears! Shrines of the humble yet celestial beginning—incunabula, we may call them, of Jeanne's early mysteries that have so long ravished the world.
We admire Mercie’s fine statue in the courtyard of the house: Jeanne is leaving home led by the Genius of France, who puts a sword in her hand.
France has no more precious possession than Domremy; no better guarantee of the future.