Jean de Metz, Part V
THE TRIAL AT POITIERS
Bertrand, knowledgeable in basic courtly etiquette, did his best to teach Jeanne how to interact with the court's nobility. Fortunately, the Dauphin's mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, took Jeanne under her protective wing and personally guided the Maid's education.
Queen Yolande explained that it was very important for Jeanne to present herself in the best possible light by dressing to perfection and by being well groomed.
The Queen then instructed Jeanne to be very proper and reserved whenever she interacted with the nobility.
When the day's lesson was over Jeanne heaved a deep sigh of relief. "In my village, I was a very joyful and playful person. I always became excited when visitors would come by my father's home. How I love to fling my arms about their necks, giving them affectionate and heart felt hugs."
Out side the confining court she still was the same Jeanne of Domremy, jovial around her soldiers easily jesting with them, but learning the Queen's lesson well she was very reserved with the nobility.
Whenever Jeanne was to meet some one for the first time, she tried to learn something about the noble or his family but her main interest was to learn how firm his faith was. From this she would determine the manner with which she would interact with him.
Jeanne would always greet the people, whether high or low born, with a smile. She was quick to come forward and welcome them with enthusiasm. She would always acknowledge her visitor's rank; not that their class had any major importance to her but she did not want to offend her guest.
Jeanne would always try to make the person with whom she spoke feel 'good' about himself. She did this by the tone of her voice and the language she used. For example she might say to one, "It is good to see such a brave soldier, like yourself, fighting for France." Or to another, "It is good to have such a noble knight fight by my side." And to the clergy she might say, "It is good to speak with such a kind and holy Priest."
After several weeks of waiting, the Dauphin informed Jeanne that she was to leave for Poitiers.
A council was assembled at the University of Poitiers to examine her. This council had a two-fold purpose: first, to determine if she came from God or the Devil, and second, if she was from God, for the Church to grant their approval for her mission.
It took two days of hard riding for us to reach Poitiers. When we arrived, the commission gave her no time to rest but instead immediately summoned her to appear before them.
They questioned Jeanne intensely in day-long sessions for three weeks. Finally, the day came for the council to render its official opinion. Jeanne, Bertrand and I waited in the council's antechamber for their verdict. Jeanne, eager to be at God's work, spent the time pacing. I, instead, sat quietly sipping on a goblet of wine, "Be patient, Jeanne," I said, "it will soon be over."
"How can you sit there and tell me to be patient, Angel? I have been at Poitiers for three weeks now, answering their tiresome questions." Jeanne impatiently looked heavenward, "God gave me only a short time in which to accomplish His will, yet they prevent me from doing it!"
"It is the only way you can get the approval you need."
She flashed me a look as her body shook with emotion. "Questions, questions! All this time spent in useless questions. I have all the official approval from God that I need. Why won't they believe me?"
Bertrand made a move toward the window. "They want to be sure of your credentials, so to speak, Jeanne. That is why they are taking all this time to question you. You must admit that what you propose to do is a very serious matter."
"This I know, Bertrand. When I first met these 'wise' men, they told me, 'We were sent to you on behest of the King.' I answered them, 'I know well enough that you have come to question me, but I know neither A nor B.' 'Why did you come and who urged you to speak to the Dauphin?' With this they began their interrogation.
"I tried to answer their questions calmly, 'As I was keeping my father's flocks, a Voice called me. This Voice said, 'God has great compassion for the people of France. Jeanne, you must arise and go into France.' Having heard these words I wept. Then the Voice said, 'Go to Vaucouleurs. You will find there a captain who will bring you safely into France. Have no fear!' I did as I was told and reached the King without impediment. "
She walked over to the open window and looked out over the quiet courtyard. "Then the judges said, 'According to your statement, the Voice told you that God wished to deliver the people of France. If that is true then God has no need for soldiers.' 'In the name of God! The soldiers will fight and God will give the victory!'
They read a long time, from their big, heavy books in an attempt to show me why they should not believe me. I answered them boldly, 'Masters, my Lord has greater books than yours. God has a book wherein no clerk has ever read, no matter how good a scholar he may be.' Even though they laughed at my answer, they still said to me, 'But after all, God would not have us believe you unless you give us some definite sign. How could we advise the King to trust you with soldiers, merely on your word? We might be placing them in danger.' "
Fire filled her eyes as she remembered her reply. "I told them, 'In the name of God! I have not come to Poitiers to give signs but take me to Orleans and I shall show you signs for which I have been sent! Let them give me men, as many as they judge fitting, and I shall go to Orleans. The English will be driven away or be annihilated. The siege of Orleans will be raised and the city delivered from its enemies after I shall demand it in the name of the King of Heaven. The King will be crowned at Reims; the city of Paris will yield obedience to the King and the Duke of Orleans will return from England.'"
Her mood quickly changed as she remembered one specific judge. "There was this one judge, who spoke with a thick Limoges accent, asking, 'What language do your Voices speak?' 'They speak better French than you!' He then said, 'Do you believe in God?' 'Indeed, yes, better than you do!' The other judges were entertained by my reply and my temper cooled."
"Another member of the court asked me why I did not wear a woman's dress. I answered, 'Should I not wear the clothes that are suited to my work? As long as I live the life of a soldier, it is more fitting that I dress as a man. This attire, I believe, best protects my virginity, both of soul and body.'"
"These Churchman asked me about my voices and how they first came to me. I had no fear in telling them because my counsel was there by my side to help and guide me."
"I was working in my father's, garden on that bright, hot Friday. The noon bells began to ring for Matins. Under the large oak I knelt, facing the church and began the Angeles prayer as I have done every day, whether in the fields watching the sheep, or in the woods before Our Lady's shrine. But this day was unlike any other, for as I knelt the noonday sun hit me hard in the face, blinding me for an instant. I heard a buzzing mingled with the sound of the bells. The breath swept out of my lungs and the world around me appeared to recede... giving way to a brilliant light.
"My heart began to beat wildly like the beating of great eagle wings against a bony cage, intent only on soaring and spiraling toward the burning consummation of God's love. The sun itself became the heart of God, beating in unison with mine. Yet it was simple, like fresh white linen after the wash. It was simple and pure just like that.
"My eyes locked absolutely on a spot somewhere within the branches of the oak tree. Nothing stirred, not a leaf, not an insect, not a stitch of the white kerchief atop my head. Not even a strand of my hair moved, because there was no breeze at all.
"I followed some invisible point, that seemed to glide in and about the patches of light, that peeked through the leaves to tumble down in patterns on my transfixed face. It was a glittering warmth, slow and fine like honey dripping from a jar.
"My mouth opened a little and I nodded my head to the brilliant 'being' that my eyes were fixed on. All was light, brighter than I had ever seen. Filtered through gigantic white wings, disembodied, belonging to no creature I ever before knew existed. The rise and fall of those enormous wings breathed on my face embraced me... whispering in my soul, 'GOD LOVES YOU! AND I LOVE YOU!'
"Time passed, how long I could not tell but finally the glorious silence was broken. 'Jeanne, little daughter," The Voice continued, 'will you be good?''
"I nodded eagerly and said without thinking, 'Is this a dream, or is all that went before the dream?'
"The Voice, if it were possible, became even more joyful. 'Little Jeanne, pray often!'
"A simple thought raced through my reeling mind, 'What is it that you desire?'
"It was then that the light changed, shifted, the white wings of light drew apart in golden shadows and began to circle a vacant point in the trunk of the oak tree. It was in this point that I saw the noble face of intense fire, the face of the warrior angel. If I could have I would have turned my face from such an awesome and terrifying sight, but I could not. It was the human fear that rose up in me, bubbling up from the darkest corners of my soul. I was now faced with the destiny I had always known, but preferred to pretend that it did not exist. It had somehow always been a part of me and made me feel as if my true home had been in another place than the one I had always known in my mother's warm loving embrace. How small I felt, confronted with this knowledge; it was at once both an awesome burden and a great joy, but in my mind I could not define it.
"I was as terrified as any thirteen year old girl would be, who was not given to seeing the wings of angels or the great light of God, at noon, under the tree, with bells ringing.
"The wings drifted away, like ones reflection when passing a glass window. The light appeared to form and gather itself together, gradually becoming smaller and smaller, till it was only as big as the tip of my little finger. Then it shot past me like a wasp, heading straight into the white sky, where it disappeared. Then my eyes became fixed on the trunk of the old oak as I felt the first hot tears flow down my trembling cheeks. The image on the tree became clear to me, like when the first rays of the morning hit the swirling waters of the Muse. In a sparkling flash I saw a glorious fiery sword. Then it was gone.., all gone.
"I let out a cry and threw myself to the ground in desperate hope that somehow the warm soil would console what was left of me. With my cheek pressed hard against the dust, I sobbed like a baby, but the earth would not budge. I threw my arms over the back of my head to muffle my wails, though no one was near enough to hear me.
"From somewhere deep inside me, I heard a voice almost like the voice of light. It was not by my own will that this distant echo of a Voice welled up from within me, but I heard it nonetheless, 'Littlest Jeanne, do not fear, God will help you!'
"Surprised by this unexpected voice, my body quivered, as I wiped my nose and struggled to sit back up. The earth was moving freely again with the breeze and the crickets and the grass under my toes feeling real and soft. I stopped crying then and walked somewhat unsure of my steps from the large garden into the courtyard behind my father's house where the chickens clucked at my feet. Even though I was bewildered and in a daze, I did not bother to see if the fiery sword was still by the tree, because its image was etched indelibly into my mind. I knew my childhood was now.., forever.., over."
"The land and the seasons were as much a part of me as I was a part of them. The heavy summer heat formed droplets of salty sweat on my forehead that flowed down the sides of my face. I rested the back of my hand upon my brow to shield my eyes when I looked up into the white sky. In that summer silence, I was looking for something, but I did not know what. I dug my hands deep into the soil as I struggled to remove the tenacious weeds. It was almost noon when I had finished my chores and went to rest on the grass in front of my father's house. I could hear all of nature proclaim the greatness of God. The birds, busy in the trees, sang their praises to the Lord as the bugs buzzed and whizzed through the air. The littlest of insects, hard at work, scurried to and fro before me.
"Surrounded by all this beauty I began to pray. All at once, a stillness so vast and encompassing, overcame me. I could still see everything as clearly as before but now I could hear only a soft gentle chiming or tinkling. I looked up and saw moving toward me a great, dazzling white light coming from the direction of the nearby church. The closer it came the more I was embraced by the majesty of God! Then as suddenly as it had started, the experience ended. This was the second time that I felt my Voices.
"One morning, days later, with the air thick with a mist that rose off the marsh, I as usual, went to Saint Remy church to attend Mass with the others. As was my custom, I lingered behind after all the others had departed for their homes. I was alone praying in church when this dazzling white brilliance appeared beside the altar. It blinded me, but this time only for an instant and then my soul was plunged into a great joy. As before, I was drawn into the light when I began to see something taking shape. It was vague, like the morning mist I had walked through earlier, yet it was not a mist of water that I saw. No! More radiant than the sun's reflection off still water, it was a mist of living, breathing light! I heard something that suggested a vast host of voices blended together into one melodic harmony, but I could not distinguish the words. Instinctively I knew that it could only come from God. As before, when the melody and light faded, I was left in a state of bliss, a bliss that I had never dreamed possible. Afterward, my mind began to race with questions. 'Was I insane? What was happening to me?'
"Greatly troubled, I did not sleep that night, as I continued to ponder the meaning of what I had experienced. As the early morning glow slipped into my room, I decided to go to Mass and ask for our dear Lord's help. It was there, while at prayer after Mass, that I remembered hearing the priest say, 'the best way to test a spirit is to sprinkle holy water at it as you command, "Depart, in the name of Jesus, if you are a thing of evil!"' Filled with joy and relief I thanked God for the inspiration. From that time on, I carried a small container of holy water because I did not know when or if this light would return.
But it did return. It was Saturday, and as was our practice, my closest friends, Hauviette, Mengette and I would make the pilgrimage climb to the small chapel of Our Lady of Bermont.
"Because my friends were busy collecting flowers to present to the Virgin, they were oblivious to what occurred. Everything happened as before, the great stillness, the tinkling, chiming sound, the objects around me taking on a vivid golden hue and the LIGHT! Immediately I was given full understanding that I was embraced by true peace and love! Then I heard it; the Voice, that I knew came from an angel. This Voice came from an approaching indistinct vapor of light.
"I took the container that held the holy water from my pocket and sprinkled it in the direction of the light, commanding, 'In the Name of Jesus, if you are not from God, depart!' The light did not disperse and I heard a low strong voice say, "I am the Archangel Michael."
"He was clothed in God's shimmering glory, which surrounded and pulsated in immense and numberless waves. Though frightened, I quickly came to believe he was the Archangel Michael, because I had the will to believe it. The Voice, speaking in the language of the angels, instructed me to be good, to go to church often, and he promised that God would help me. Somehow, God's great love was poured into my mind, heart, and soul. I wondered and then, in an instant, understood! I knew that God's one desire was to allow Him to love me, to allow myself to be immersed into His love. In response to this limitless love, I vowed to keep my virginity for as long as God desired. Filled with joy and happiness, I could not stop praising God for the great love He had shown me. I gave myself to God that day and was His ever since. Nothing else on earth mattered. NOTHING!
"Saint Michael withdrew and the light slowly faded. I thought my vision had ended. Still kneeling I bowed low to the earth, kissing the ground where Saint Michael had stood. I looked up amongst the branches and leaves of the trees and saw a wondrous and terrible sight, an enormous, towering sword of fire. Then, just as my eyes focused on its shape, a flash of brilliance, greater than a thousand suns, radiated forth and was gone. I fell backward upon the ground, stunned."
"Whenever Saint Michael came, he would not be alone, but a vast multitude of angels appeared with him. Often angels come among Christians and are not seen by them, but I see them clearly. In the generosity of God, Saint Michael did not reveal to me the full extent of my mission. No, it would have been too much for me to bear. He did it gently over a long period of time.
"Even before I ever knew that I would have to leave Domremy, Saint Michael told me that God would send others to comfort and counsel me in what I had to do. He told me that I must believe them because they would be good spirits who would guide me at God's command. Soon afterward, I saw their light but could not distinguish them immediately. It was not until I heard their sweet and gentle voices that I knew. As a mother tenderly caresses her child, one after the other, placed their warm smooth hands upon my cheeks. With the glory of God, a gleaming and resplendent light constantly surrounding them, they bent down to whisper their names, Catherine and Margaret. Inhaling the heavenly sweetness I looked into their eyes, their astoundingly immense eyes, and witnessed there such love that I do not have the ability to describe. This love filled me with such a profound sense of peace. I felt so loved by my Voices that, in turn I loved them with all my heart.
"They both had very rich and radiant crowns made of the most precious of stones while their faces and long hair were beautiful. They spoke plainly to me in beautiful French that I understood perfectly. I was pleased to learn that they were Saints Catherine and Margaret, for I had loved them dearly from my earliest childhood.
"Before they departed, I once more inhaled their sweetness as I did them honor by embracing their knees and kissing the hem of their gowns. I could not help but weep from the pain that their leaving caused me. I yearned, with all my heart, that they would take me with them. They only smiled and said, 'We shall take you to heaven when your work here on earth is done.' In this I found no solace, since my desire to go with them was so great. I longed for the time when God would call me home because on that blessed day, I know I would rush joyfully into His presence.
"In many of my visions Saint Catherine would come with that same fiery sword that Saint Michael carried, but instead of holding it as a weapon, she held it as if it were a cross. Two angels would come and without touching the sword they would hold it up before her. With heads bowed and hands prayerfully folded together, they knelt as their fluid wings and gowns flowed softly behind them. Over time I lost my fear of this sword but never my awe. Even though I had a great desire to touch it, due to my reverence I never did.
"I remembered that with the passing of the years my 'heavenly Saints' features became less distinct and I forgot the look of their individual faces. But their voices, their dear, sweet voices, were always so wondrous. Their speech was eloquent, soft and humble, and remained as clear and definite as when I first heard their heavenly greeting. I could instantly tell them apart just by the sound of their voices.
For well over three and a half years my saints taught me the ways of holiness and how to hear the will of God in my life. Thus they gently, patiently trained and prepared me for my mission.
"One day Saint Michael told me to go to Vaucouleurs and tell Sir Robert de Baudricourt to take me to Chinon or give me men - at - arms to do so. At this command my mind whirled and I found it difficult to stand. Thoughts and emotions flashed before me. No more delay. The time had come. Good-by to what I had known. Good-by to my dearly loved family and friends. Good-by to my beloved countryside. Suddenly, intensely, I felt my own inadequacy, my own unworthiness and I protested, 'I am a poor girl who knows nothing of riding, or leading men in war.'
"In fearful wonder I threw myself to the ground before his glorious presence. A fiery illumination flashed from his eyes. It was that same holy sword that I had seen so many times before but was afraid to touch, which penetrated my mind and heart. 'Daughter of God, be strong and fear not! Go into France and raise the siege of Orleans! Have faith and trust in God, for He alone will help you.' I knew and immediately understood that I was born for this!
"When the day came for me to leave my home, I put on the red dress that my mother and I had made together. I always wore this dress on special occasions because the color red reminded me of the blood that Christ had shed for me. And this day was an important and special one. As my uncle Durand waited for me in his cart I said my hasty farewells to my parents, giving each a loving hug and a kiss.
"Yet, I had one more place to go before my uncle took me to his home. I asked him to stop at the nearby shrine of Our Lady of Bermont where my sister Catherine and I would go each Saturday. There, before the statue of Our Lady, I lit a candle and with a deep sigh I said, "It now begins." Then I knelt and reverently crossed myself as I asked Jesus and Mary to be with me as I started my new life in God's service. "
The wine they provided for our use was of a delicate bouquet. A little wine helped to calm the nerves, so I handed Jeanne a small glass. Bertrand, dragging an old chair from the corner of the room, joined us. The old war horse stood tall and proud as he smiled at Jeanne and I. The sunlight reflected off the highly polished brass studs of his old doublet, speckling his face with light. His light brown hair, which he kept very short, was beginning to thin and turn gray. He stood there with such a look of admiration in his bright hazel eyes, that it made me smile! He laughed while simultaneously slapping our backs. "It is good to have friends such as yourselves!" He swung his leg over the short chair-back and sat down. Then smacking his thighs with the palm of his hands he proclaimed, "It is good for us to be here."
Usually sedate, his behavior surprised us, yet we welcomed it because his spirited behavior helped to clear the air. I filled another goblet to the brim and gave it to him and with great gusto we toasted each other. "To good friends!" we said and Jeanne added, "God bless them!"
Together we laughed, "Amen, to that! And God bless you too, Jeanne!"
She patted Bertrand's rough, ill-shaven cheek. "Thank you, good friend."
A fast, hard knock at the door interrupted Jeanne and brought her back to the present moment. A boy of twelve entered. "The Court sits to render its decision, Mademoiselle. Please follow me."
Smiling, she heaved a sigh of relief. "The waiting is over."
All classes and sorts of people filled the courtroom till the crowd overflowed into the street. The noise was deafening with the usual small talk, laughter, and the incessant rattle of legal papers. The panel of seven judges awaited Jeanne's entry. The Archbishop of Reims sat on a high platform in a high-backed chestnut-colored chair. The other judges sat on the lower platform in low-backed chairs. Bertrand and I remained at the rear of the courtroom, while Jeanne followed the court's page to the front. She stopped a short way from the Archbishop and there gracefully bowed. Complete silence enveloped the courtroom as Jeanne stood unflinchingly to face the Bishop. His emotionless, gray-blue eyes fixed on her as the judge who sat to his right swiftly placed a scroll into his outstretched hand. In a stern, official monotone voice, he began to read the Court's decision
"I, Regnault de Chartres, by the grace of God, Archbishop of Reims and head of this ecclesiastical tribunal, with the help of the other judges here assembled, have reached an official decision concerning this case of Jeanne, called the Maid, which was brought to us by our Sovereign Lord, King Charles."
"It is our learned decision, given that the King has tested this said Maid, concerning her life, her conduct, her morals and her purposes, that this tribunal has proven and found in her nothing evil, but only goodness, humility, virginity, devotion, chastity and simplicity of her life."
"As the King demanded of her a sign, she replied that she would show it before the city of Orleans and in no other place, for thus God commanded her. Seeing that, the King has found no evil in her, we believe the King should not prevent her from going to Orleans with soldiers, but that he should send her there with full trust in God. For to fear and reject her without cause would be to rebel against the Holy Ghost and render himself unworthy of God's aid. So saying, this court here assembled gives its official blessing: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen."
As the Archbishop blessed her, Jeanne knelt crossing herself reverently. A roar went up from the crowd. They rushed forward, completely encircling her in a joyous frenzy of congratulations. She struggled through the pressing crowd, slowly making her way to the door. Pinned against the wall by the crush of the crowd we had to stay where we were. The crowd, who followed after her, at last thinned sufficiently for us to leave the building. We found her waiting for us at the end of the street. "You did it, Jeanne, you did it!"
She shook her head and pointed to heaven. "No, my friends, I did nothing. God has accomplished this and now I am free to carry out His will. To work, to work, there is much to do."