Brother Isambart de La Pierre, Part VI
HER FAITH RECLAIMED
Stunned, Jeanne silently started back to the cart. Realizing Cauchon had lied to her, she began to protest and vigorously struggle with her guards. Despite her efforts, they took her back to her old prison and applied the same chains, just as before.
That afternoon, Cauchon and five others came to her cell. Over his arm he brought a long, plain linen dress. Throwing it at her feet he ordered, "Wear this."
Jeanne picked up the dress from the filthy floor and entered the cell's latrine. After a few minutes she emerged in the woman's shift. She carried in her arms her old clothes. In a daze, she clung tightly to her bundle until one of the guards ripped it from her grasp. Shoving the foul smelling things into a burlap sack, he tossed it into the corner.
"We also require that your hair be shaved off! Thus, all traces of your past sinful life will be erased." The Bishop ordered the barber to begin.
Jeanne sat mutely while the barber removed large tufts of her hair. With each clump that fell a shiver racked her body.
Now that her hair had been reduced to stubble, the satisfied judges left her cell. Last to leave, I watched the guards slammed shut the heavy door and bolted it. At this sound, a frightful thought ran through me: I was wrong to think she could save herself! In horror, I ran down the spiral staircase and out into the courtyard. Stopping only long enough to catch my breath, I watched the red glow of the setting sun change to violet. High overhead, I heard the call of a bird as it winged its way through the evening sky. I could smell the salt sea air and breathing deeply I tried to clear my mind.
I was shaken from my thoughts when the Earl of Warwick, shouting angrily, marched past me toward the Bishop. "The King has wasted his money on you, priest!" He bellowed to Cauchon. "Why was she not sent to the stake? The King is badly served in this, for the witch has escaped us!"
The Bishop gently raised his hands. "My Lord, take no heed on that account. We shall soon have her again. I know this wench." He gave the Earl a cunning smile.
Three days passed. Jeanne was shackled and chained, still held in the English prison and guarded by English soldiers. On the morning of the fourth day, Brother Paul and I entered her cell. Jeanne was once again in male clothing! Her face was buried within the folds of her arms and she was crying bitterly.
I howled in disgust, "Jeanne, what have you done!"
Unable to control her pitiable sobbing, she did not bother to answer or look up. So I raised her face and was appalled by what I saw. It was horribly disfigured with bruises, cuts and drying blood. One of her eyes was swollen shut while the corner of her mouth had a deep cut and her bottom lip was split, and puffy.
"My God! Who did this to you!"
"An English Lord came, intending to rape me. I, with God's help, fought him off. When his attempts proved unsuccessful, he turned his rage into relentless blows. Finally he grabbed hold of the right sleeve of my shift and ripped it to the point where it hung useless at my side. Then the head guard, flinging my old clothes at me, ordered me to dress."
"I told him and the rest of the guards that I was forbidden to wear male clothing, and I would not wear it! With only my torn shift and this dirty blanket to cover me, I pleaded with them all morning and well after the noon Angelus’ bells had stopped ringing. Yet, they would not bend as they laughed me to scorn. Finally when my bodily necessities became too great for me to endure any longer I resigned myself to my fate and asked the guards to unlock my bonds so that I could go to the latrine. There I removed my dress and once more put on the cloths of a man."
With a reproachful look she added, "Even the Churchmen did not keep their word for they have not allowed me to receive my Lord."
"Jeanne! Do you understand what this means?"
"Death! But the fire will be a swift death compared to this vile existence."
When news reached Cauchon that Jeanne had resumed her male clothing, he hurried to her cell. In the company of the Vice - Inquisitor and seven other assistant judges, the Bishop haughtily pointed to Jeanne. "You see! She has relapsed!" The other judges could only nod in silent agreement. "How long has it been since you have resumed this dress?"
Jeanne remained seated, unable to stand. "Not long."
The Bishop, crossing his arms, grimly continued. "Why have you taken it, and who made you take it?"
"I have taken it of my own free will. I prefer a man's garment to a woman's dress. I have taken it because it is more lawful and appropriate to wear men's clothing than to dress in a woman's garment. I took it to defend myself, because my guards tried to violate me. I have complained to you about this before." She raised her eyes and glared at the Bishop. "I have resumed it, because what was pledged to me has not been kept, that I be placed in a Church prison and have women to guard me. There I would willingly remain in the dress of a woman. You did not keep your word that I could go to Mass and receive Holy Communion." Raising her hands she shook her chains in tearful agony. "And that I should be taken out of these irons."
Cauchon scowled. "Have you not made abjuration and promised not to resume men's clothing?"
"For the things I abjured, I had no understanding of what was contained in those written words. I did that because I was afraid of the fire. I would rather die than be in irons. However, if I am allowed to go to Mass and be taken out of irons and be put in a Church prison having women to guard me, I will be good and will do what you wish."
How tragic it was to see the girl they called 'the terror of the English' reduced to a whimpering, swollen-faced child. Cauchon smirked at the other judges.
"Since last Thursday, have you heard the voices of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret?"
"What did they tell you?"
Jeanne wiped her eyes. "Through His Saints, God informed me of His great sorrow for the treason that I had committed by signing the abjuration. To save my life I betrayed Him and in so doing I damned myself!"
I knew this answer meant death. The court notary marked in the margin of his paper: "Responsio Mortifera" or, "fatal answer."
Jeanne continued, "Before going to St. Ouen, my Voices told me what to do and say. When I was on the scaffold they told me to answer the preacher boldly. He was a false preacher, and he had reproached me for many things I had not done. If I said that God had not sent me, I should damn myself because, in truth, God did send me! My Voices have said I did a great evil in declaring that I was wrong. All that I revoked, I did for fear of the fire." Her voice trembled and broke when she looked up at him.
"Do you believe that the voices which speak to you are those of Saint Catherine and Margaret?" Cauchon asked.
"Yes, and that they come from God."
"Tell us the truth about the crown you mentioned at your trial?"
Weary of it all, Jeanne shook her head. "In everything I told you the truth the best I could."
The Bishop closed with a final question. "On the scaffold, you told us judges and the people, that you had falsely boasted about your Voices being that of Saint Catherine and Margaret."
"I did not intend to deny Saint Catherine and Margaret. What I said was from fear of the fire." Holding her head high, she proudly added, "I would rather do penance once for all – that is die - than endure any longer my sufferings in prison. I have done nothing against God or the Faith. I did not understand what was in the abjuration. I did not intend to revoke anything except according to God's good pleasure. If you Judges wish, I will resume a woman's dress. As for the rest, I can do no more!"
Cauchon and the judges silently left her cell. Jeanne yelled after them. "If you, my Lord Bishop, had placed and kept me in your church prison, this would not have happened!"
Too busy gloating to take notice of her words, Cauchon spoke to the Earl of Warwick who was just coming up the steps. "Be of good cheer! It is all done and she is caught!"
Wednesday, May 30th, in the year of Our Lord, 1431: gray mists clung to the ground as fellow Dominican Brothers, Paul and Martin, entered her cell with me at dawn. It fell to me to inform her of the manner of her death.
"Brother Martin has come this morning to hear your confession and to set you right with God. It is my painful duty to inform you of the death that you are to die this day. Death… by fire."
Unaware that her sentence had been so swiftly pronounced, Jeanne shook in terror. "Alas! Am I to be so horribly and cruelly treated? Alas! That my body, whole and entire, which has never been corrupted, should today be consumed and burned to ashes!" Several times she beat her hands hard against her chest and pulled at her head. "Ah! I would far rather have my head chopped off seven times over, than to be burned. Burned! Alas! Had I been in the Church prison, to which I surrender myself, and been safeguarded by clergy instead of my enemies, this misfortune would not have come to me!" She fell to her knees and folded her hands, raising them towards heaven. "Ah! I appeal to God, the Great Judge, for the great injustices done to me!"
At that moment, Jeanne saw Cauchon enter her cell. "Bishop, I die through you!"
He was physically staggered by her words. "Ah! Jeanne, have patience! You die because you have not kept your word but have returned to your evil doings."
"Alas! If you had put me in the Church's prison and into the hands of competent Church guardians, this would not have happened. That is why I appeal to God for justice against you!"
The Bishop retreated swiftly from her cell, as if in danger of being struck down by a higher power. Brother Paul ran after him. "May we give her Holy Communion?"
Not bothering to slow his gait, Cauchon responded. "Give her Communion and whatever else she may ask for."
Father Pierre Maurice, who had accompanied the Bishop, remained behind in the quiet cell. Jeanne asked, "Master Pierre, where will I be tonight?"
"Jeanne, do you not have good hope in Our Lord?"
Jeanne smiled weakly through her tears. "Yes I do. By God's grace, I will be in Paradise."
With head bent low, Jeanne confessed to Brother Martin. When she had received absolution, her face brightened. She sat back against the stone wall as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
As we waited for the Blessed Sacrament, Jeanne spoke quietly. "There is a Franciscan Monastery near my home that has a large and beautiful crucifix. On its base is an inscription which says, 'My love is crucified!' A friar explained that Jesus willingly gave all He had, His very life, for love of the Church. I see now that like Jesus I am called to give all I have, my very life, for love of my people." She fell silent for a moment. "No, Brother! I am called to give my life for all people."
Over and over, I heard her whisper, "My love is crucified. My love is crucified."
Father Massieu entered her cell carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a most disrespectful manner, without stole or even a lighted candle. He had placed the Host on a paten and wrapped it in a linen cloth. Brother Martin angrily reprimanded him for his irreverence and shamefaced Father Massieu acknowledged his error. Taking the Blessed Sacrament with him, he left to go and fetch a stole and candle. As Jeanne prayed silently, the words from Psalm 17 came to my mind.
Though You test my heart, searching it in the night,
Though You try me with fire,
You shall find no malice in me!
For I in justice shall behold Your face;
On waking, I shall be content in Your presence."
Father Massieu returned not only with the stole and lighted candle, but also with a procession of other priests, all of whom sang hymns and carried lighted torches. He placed the stole around Brother Martin's neck and gave me a candle to hold. Brother Martin then made the sign of the cross with the Blessed Sacrament before placing the Host on her tongue.
Upon receiving Our Lord, Jeanne's face was profoundly transformed with such peace that it filled me with wonder!