Brother Isambart de La Pierre, Part VII
DEATH - BY FIRE
A short time later, I returned with the dress: a coarse, white penitent gown worn by the condemned. The noise of my approach awakened her, as if from a daze. Her guards paid no attention to us. They were busy making plans for this night's revelries.
Silently, with head bowed and shoulders stooped, she held the dress close to her breast and vanished into the darkness of the latrine. Moments later she emerged wearing her funeral gown. She stood motionless, staring into the torchlight that was before her. Her head bobbed, ever so slightly, as if she were answering someone.
I wanted so to say something that would give her some sort of comfort. I racked my brains trying to find something to say. Finally a verse from the Old Testament came to mind.
"Jeanne," I said as kindly as I could, "there is a verse in the Old Testament where God speaks through the prophet Malachi. This is what it says, 'Who can endure the day of his?' Jeanne, his means God. 'Who can endure the day of HIS coming? Who can stand when HE appears? For HE will be like a refiner's fire… HE will sit as a refiner of silver.., HE will purify and refine them like gold and silver.'"
"Do you know how a silversmith refines his silver, Jeanne?" She mutely shook her head so I continued. "A silversmith has to sit in front of his very hot fire. He then places the silver into the hottest part of the fire. He holds it there as the fire burns away all the impurities. What is most important is that the silversmith has to sit there in front of this intense fire and heat the entire time; for if he leaves the silver in the flames a moment too long, it would be destroyed."
Jeanne turned and looked deeply into my eyes. "How does he know when the time is right and the silver is fully refined?"
I smiled. "When the silversmith can see his image in it. So, little one, remember today when the time comes that God has HIS eyes on you and HE will keep watching you until HE sees HIS image reflected in you. Then Jesus will lovingly send your Saints to your side to carry you safely to heaven."
She was silent, I could only hope that my words brought some peace to her wounded heart.
Father Massieu signaled that it was time.
In bare feet, Jeanne walked to the waiting cart that was surrounded by soldiers and other inhabitants of the castle. The same dung cart that transported her to the cemetery of Saint Ouen would now bring her to the Old Marketplace and the stake.
As she neared the cart, Father Loyseleur, the court spy, came running up and fell to his knees before her. "Forgive me, please! I did you a great wrong by leading you to this terrible end!"
Jeanne reached out to him. "Father, I forgive you, and I ask you to forgive me the wrongs I may have done you. Please, pray for my soul's salvation." Jeanne was still speaking when an angry English soldier pushed his way between them. He grabbed her arm roughly and pulled her toward the waiting cart. Father Loyseleur vanished into the crowd.
Someone placed a paper miter on her head, the symbol of a heretic. Far too large, as she no longer had any hair, the miter dropped down over her eyes. In bold lettering for all to read, the miter bore the words: Heretic, Relapsed, Blasphemer, Idolater.
Seeing those deceitful words caused me to remember Psalm 27, which I immediately began to pray for Jeanne.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the fortress of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh the wicked, mine enemies, are the ones who stumbled and fell.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war were rise against me, my trust would still be firm.
One thing have I ask of The LORD, one thing I seek: to live in the house of The LORD all the days of my life, to enjoy the sweetness of The LORD, and to talk with Him in His temple.
For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; He hides me deep within His tent; He has set me high upon a rock.
And my head is held high above mine enemies who surround me, in His tent I will offer exulted sacrifice.
I will sing, I will play for The LORD.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry! Pity me! Answer me!
My heart has said of You, "Seek His face;" Oh Lord I do seek Your face; do not hide Your face from me.
Do not put Your servant away in anger; You are my help. Never leave me, never desert me, O God my Savior!
If my father and my mother desert me, The LORD will care for me still.
O LORD, teach me Your way, lead me in the path of integrity because of mine enemies; do not abandon me to the will of my foes: for false witnesses have risen up against me, and breathe out violence.
This I believe, that I shall see the goodness of The Lord, in the land of the living. Put your hope in The Lord, be strong, let your heart be bold, put your hope in GOD.
As I prayed this Psalm, the soldiers yanked Jeanne into the cart. Without thought for our own safety, both Father Massieu and I jumped in after her. With the crack of a whip, the loathsome cart began to move towards the Old Market Square and Jeanne's dreadful end.
Again, eight hundred English soldiers lined the entire route. As before, the noise from the jeering crowd deafened me. People on the street were standing four deep, while others hung out of their windows or climbed on boxes, all in the attempt to get one last glimpse of her. On this short trip, Jeanne prayed. Fervently and unceasingly, she invoked the Blessed Trinity and called upon Jesus, Mary, Saints Michael, Catherine, Margaret, Gabriel and all the inhabitants of Paradise.
At the Old Marketplace, the English soldiers shoved her to the scaffold that stood near the stake. Father Massieu, Brother Martin and I, abused by the soldiers, followed close behind. Across from the scaffold stood another larger platform that held the Church officials and judges.
Father Nicolas Midi began a lengthy sermon, which he took from Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. For a full hour he went on. Every bead of sweat on my forehead seemed to take an hour to fall. Yet, when I looked at Jeanne, she was silent, patient and waiting. It appears, as if part of her were already dead.
The Maid saw a group of priests standing near her. She crying out, "I ask you, priests of God, please say a Mass for my soul's salvation!" She turned to the people who crowded around her platform and called out to them. "I beg all of you to forgive me the harm I may have done you. Please pray for me." Falling to her knees, Jeanne began to pray aloud, professing true faith in The Church. She uttered many beautiful and profound prayers as she recommended her soul to God, to the Blessed Mother and to all the Saints. Raising her head she boldly proclaimed, "My King, Charles, is blameless. I alone am responsible! My King did not force me to do anything."
I looked on her accusers. Listening to her prayers and watching her simple preparations for death, both the English Cardinal of Winchester and Bishop Cauchon wept openly. The stern-faced judges, the clerks, the priests and ecclesiastical lawyers who had tormented her during her trial and professed their great hatred for her were moved to such lamentations and grieving that many in the crowd began to cry.
It was now eleven o'clock in the morning and her prayers caused the English to grow restless, until the soldiers began to shout. "What, you priests! Will you have us dine here?"
Bishop Cauchon hastily read the sentence of Excommunication.
We, Pierre, by Divine Mercy, Bishop of Beauvais, have charged you, Jeanne, commonly called the Maid, to account for many pernicious crimes. We found you to be presumptuous, a witch, a blasphemer of God and His Saints, seditious, cruel, apostate, schismatic, erring gravely against God and the Holy Church.
Moreover you, in the hardness of your heart, have stubbornly refused to submit to our Holy Father the Pope and the Holy General Council. Therefore, we declare you by right an excommunicated heretic! We abandon you to the secular justice as a lamb of Satan, infected with the leprosy of heresy, cut off from the unity of the Church. If true signs of repentance appear in you, we permit the sacrament of penance to be administered to you.
As the English guards rushed to grab Jeanne, one of Cauchon's men removed the miter from her head. A gasp rose from the crowd, when for the first time they saw her shaved head and disfigured face. The people stared while the English guards, with great fury, dragged her to the lay judges to receive her civil sentence. The sheriff waved his hand and ordered, "Carry out your office!" In a great hurry to have the business done, the soldiers shoved her toward the executioner.
The English had built the plaster base of the stake very high, so this spectacle of punishment would be seen by all. In doing this, they unwittingly prolonged her suffering. Jeanne would not die of asphyxiation from the smoke but would experience all the hideous pain that the flames would inflict.
Forced to climb the rugged pile of fagots in her bare feet, Jeanne struggled to the top. Father Massieu and Brother Martin were at her side. From the heights of the pyre, she surveyed the people in the square and those who crowded the windows and roofs of the surrounding buildings. The executioner and his assistant chained her to the stake, wrapping the links of her confinement tightly around her body.
"Rouen! Rouen! Must I die here? " "She cried. Ah, Rouen, I fear you will have to suffer for my death!"
She implored Father Massieu. "May I not have a cross?"
An English soldier heard her request and broke a small twig in two, tying the pieces together to make a rough cross. Ignoring the protests of his comrades, he climbed the pyre and placed it into her hands. Jeanne kissed it and thanked him for his kindness. She slipped it inside her bodice, next to her heart.
"Why did you do that?" I asked this rough, ill shaven soldier.
"After the battle of Patay, she had compassion on my dying younger brother. I watched amazed as she tenderly cradled and comforted him, in her arms, until he died." Grim faced, he said no more but melted into the pressing throng.
Meanwhile, Father Massieu had run to the nearby Church of the Holy Savior and brought back a processional crucifix. He held it close to Jeanne's face, allowing her to cover the crucifix with her kisses and tears. When he saw the executioner descending from the stake, he prepared to leave. At this Jeanne became distressed, so Brother Martin roughly took the crucifix from Father Massieu's hands. He held it close to Jeanne's face as she continued to lavish it with her kisses and her tears.
The executioner took a torch and lit the fire in several places around the base of the pyre. Very quickly the flames caught the dry kindling spiked with sulfur and pitch and began its relentless upward climb. At once Jeanne noticed the danger and urgently warned the friar to get down.
"Good Brother Martin, I thank you for comforting me, but you must leave this place." It was only then that he realized his danger and hurried down.
Shouting in a loud voice, Jeanne boldly declared, "My Voices did come from God and everything that I have done was by God's command!" She looked down at Brother Martin and cried out over the roaring flames, "Hold the crucifix up so I may see it until I die."
Very quickly the smoke obscured her from view. The uproar from the crowd went unabated until a shriek came from within the furious blaze, instantly freezing every tongue. "WATER! Give me Holy Water!" I gasped as I though 'the searing heat of the flames must have reached her.' I cried out in compassion, "God, help her!"
Brother Martin, despite the danger, kept the crucifix within her sight! While I, on my knees and with tears streaming down my cheeks, mournfully prayed. Come to her aid, all ye saints of God. Come to meet her, all ye angels of the Lord. Receive her soul, all ye holy ones of God, and present her soul before the throne of The Most High.
The stench of the smoke was sickening as the intense heat of the holocaust stung my eyes. It seamed to me an eternity before her voice grew faint, even so I clearly heard her calling, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!" Six times she called out His Holy Name. From behind the curtain of flames, one last time Jeanne's voice was heard calling out in heart felt love,
John Tressart, the secretary to the English King, was so upset after the event that he seized me in distress. "Father, what will become of us? We are lost! We have burnt a saint!" In his torment, he continued to shake me. "Her soul is now in the hands of God, but for all of us who had joined in her death are damned to hell!" He tore from my grasp and disappeared into the crowd.
I then saw the executioner run up to Brother Martin and collapse before him. Grabbing his habit, the man shook wildly with intense emotion. "Help me, Father! Can God forgive me for what I have done? I fear that I shall be damned for burning this holy woman!"
In my own grief, I marveled at how Jeanne had died calling on Jesus' Holy Name. Staring into the roaring flames of her funeral pyre, I tried to comfort myself with thoughts of her soul being carried aloft in the loving arms of her saints to the throne of God!
After the inferno had subsided and the executioner regained his composure, he went to inspect the debris. To his surprise, he found that Jeanne's heart and intestines had remained intact and undamaged.
The executioner applied more faggots, pitch and sulfur, making the second fire as intense as he could. This proved useless, because her heart and intestines remained whole. Even the blood within her heart remained fluid.
When this last attempt had cooled down, he gathered up her remains and placed them in a blanket. At the command of the English Cardinal, the executioner hurled them into the Seine River, where they would eventually make their way into the narrow channel that separated two great nations.