JOAN'S JOURNEY TO CANONIZATION
After Joan's victory at Orleans, the famous French poet, Christine de Pisan, wrote a poem in 1429, in which she praised Joan and stated her belief that the Maid was sent by God to help an oppressed people.
The French chronicles that were written eight or nine years after her death expressed the same sentiments as de Pisan, namely that God had sent Joan to save the Kingdom. As for the Burgundian chronicles that were written after the signing of the Treaty of Arras in 1436, we would consider them today as being middle of the road. They would not go so far as to say that Joan was sent by God but they were tactful enough not to repeat the English sentiments either, namely that Joan was sent by Satan. They were skeptical as to the source of her mission but they did acknowledge her importance in defeating the English.
From 1430 until 1793, whenever the subject of Joan came up, all the English histories were filled with resentment and repeated the same old claim that she was inspired and accomplished her deeds through the power of Satan. To them she was nothing more than a common chambermaid who was a bold tomboy. They said in their works that she was able to keep her virginity only because she was so ugly that no man wanted her.
In English literature, Shakespeare's play, HENRY VI, part 1, was the ultimate insult to Joan's memory because the play portrays her as the Devil's tool, a violent, calculating and scheming shrew.
The first and only official French court biography of Joan was written around the year 1500. The Admiral of France, Louis Malet de Graville, persuaded King Louis XII to have it written. After this though, the official court historians gave the subject of Joan only a passing mention. For the most part the future Kings of France took their cue from Charles VII and completely ignored her. In 1580, the French court historian, Du Haillan, wrote in his history of France a scandalous lie about her when he stated that Joan had been the whore of de Baudricourt, Dunois or another of her captains named Xaintrailles.
Joan's good name and deeds of valor were preserved by private individuals and historians from Orleans, Reims and Rouen. These men used the biography of 1500 as a basis of their works to which they added the local records. These biographies were published in 1522, 1578, 1581, 1589 and 1610.
Mostly though, her story was preserved in French literature. The first to write of Joan was Francois Villon, who wrote in his poem, The Ladies of Yesteryear, "Joan, the good Lorrainer, whom the English burnt at Rouen...."
In the sixteenth century, Cardinal Richelieu added Joan's name to the list of heroic women of history. In 1646, Mlle. Madeleine de Scudéry, incensed by a Protestant minister, Mr. Rivet, who made a statement in which he publicly doubted Joan's virginity, organized a "literary tournament". Mlle. de Scudéry strongly defended Joan as a chaste warrior who was sent by God to save her country. She also stated that the sentence of Rouen was the most unjust ever pronounced.
In the middle of the seventeenth century, Jean Chaplain, the official court poet, wrote an epic poem about Joan entitled, The Maid, The Deliverer of France. Although the title sounds favorable, in reality his work played down Joan's importance and spiritual guidance and instead he portrayed Dunois as the primary hero.
In the eighteenth century Voltaire based his work entitled The Maid of Orleans on Chaplain's epic. In his satire, Voltaire tried in the cruelest way possible to damage Joan's character and image by portraying her as a village idiot. He used her story to attack the Church, the Monarchy and the Nobility.
The end of the eighteenth century saw several literary works written about Joan. In 1794, the English poet, Robert Southey, wrote an epic poem in honor of Joan. With this one work he single-handedly changed the people's attitude toward her, because up to this time the English histories continued to consider her as nothing more than a witch. At this time there was a popular play being performed in which, to the cheers and applause of the enthusiastic audience, Joan was depicted as being carried off alive by Satan into hell. It was but a short time after Southey's poem was published that the audience's reaction drastically changed. Instead of cheering they began to throw rotten vegetables at the actor who portrayed Satan as they jeered and booed him. Within a few nights of this reaction a new character, an angel, was hastily introduced, who rescued her from Satan's clutches. This scene was received very warmly by all those who saw it.
The powers in charge during the French Revolution were very cruel to Joan's memory. They canceled the May 8th procession that had been held at Orleans continuously since two years after Joan's death. They also destroyed statues and crosses that were set up to honor Joan and they burned her relics, consisting of her hat that she gave to Charlotte, her standard and a sword that had belonged to her. For the next ten years Joan's memory was relegated to the shadows of French life and it was not until 1803 when Napoleon once more made it 'politically correct' to honor Joan by giving his permission for the May 8th ceremonies at Orleans to be resumed. Because Joan had fought the English, Napoleon made use of her to further his own campaign against them. He made her an official symbol of French patriotism and a national heroine. As a consequence her popularity among the people grew. All during the first half of the nineteenth century France was struggling against England in one way or another and during this time many 'histories' were written about her.
It took Jules Quicherat, a French historian, five years from 1841-1845 to compile all the documents concerning Joan into five volumes. Not only did he publish the complete texts of the trial of Condemnation and Nullification, but he also gathered excerpts from chronicles, literary works, letters, public documents and the accounting ledgers from the city of Orleans into his scholarly work. Single handedly Quicherat sparked a renaissance of interest in Joan among the scholars who in turn translated the Latin and Old French into modern French. By doing this, the general public could finally read for themselves Joan's own words and at last she became for them a real historical figure.
With this development the whole spectrum of political ideologies began to claim her. Joan became the champion for many causes from the atheistic anticlerical Freemasons, the Socialist Nationalists and Communists to the conservative Catholic Monarchists. From the 1850's on France was shaken by a savage anticlerical movement. Those who supported the Church decried the rapid spread of atheistic secular humanism and the growing immorality of the nation and they used Joan as a symbol to reclaim France from the humanists.
The Church was not blind to the upsurge in popularity that Joan had achieved and on May 8, 1869, Bishop Dupanloup of Orleans with the support of eleven other French Bishops petitioned Rome to begin the process of Canonization. Bishop Dupanloup declared, "Not only Orleans and France but also the whole world venerate God's actions through Joan of Arc, the piety and enthusiasm of this young girl, her purity and selflessness with which she always carried out the will of God...."
"We wish that Your Holiness would now honor and exalt her memory. This would be a just tribute to Joan, who in freeing her country also saved it from the heresy, which might have become a danger... It would also constitute a title of honor to the French people...."
Unfortunately with the coming of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and France's ensuing defeat, Bishop Dupanloup's request was put on hold. During this war France lost the province of "Alsace-Lorraine" to the Germans and the French politicians used Joan as a symbol for a crusade to regain this territory.
In 1893 the French people overwhelmingly elected a Socialist government into power. Eight months later on January 27, 1894, Pope Leo XIII, in hopes of improving relations between the Vatican and the French government, extended an olive branch to them by officially beginning the process of Joan's Beatification. In doing so he proclaimed the Maid to have been the venerable handmaiden of God.
In the process of declaring a person a 'Saint' the promoters of the prospective Saint's cause are asked to vouch for four authentic miracles to secure for beatification and two more miracles for Canonization.
The Holy Father can dispense one miracle if the candidate has founded a religious order. In Joan's case, this dispensation was granted because she had saved France. Thus, three miracles sufficed for her beatification. The three approved miracles that raised Joan to Blessed were as follows:
1) Sister Thérèse of St. Augustine, who lived in Orleans, had been cured of leg ulcers.
2) Sister Julie Gauthier, who lived in Faverolles, was cured of a cancerous ulcer of her left breast.
3) Sister Marie Sagnier, who lived in Frages, was miraculously cured of cancer of the stomach.
Pope Pius X solemnly accepted these three miracles as authentic on December 13, 1908. He declared, "Joan has shone like a new star destined to be the glory not only of France but of the Universal Church as well." It was because of her heroic virtue that she was declared Blessed on April 18, 1909.
Because the Socialist Party was very anti-clerical, they wanted Joan canonized so that they could used her as strictly a political hero. Between 1895 and 1905 relations between the Socialist government and the Holy See worsened to the point of total breakdown. L' Action Francaise, a conservative royalist political organization, worked and demonstrated in the streets to bring down the Socialist government. This organization also worked for Joan's canonization.
The two miracles needed for Joan's canonization were obtained and authenticated without much delay, but World War I put a stop to all such activities. In 1920 when the war was over and the French were victorious, the Vatican wanted to improve relations with the Socialist government. The Holy See was willing to give them their Saint if the French government would reestablish diplomatic relations.
In his book, Saint Joan of Arc, Msgr. Leon Cristiani described his connection to one of the two miracles that caused Joan officially to be declared a Saint by the Church. The miracle that he witnessed occurred in Lourdes on August 22, 1909, during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament.
The person in question was Thérèse Belin who lay unconscious when the Blessed Sacrament passed before her. Msgr. Cristiani was desirous of seeing Joan canonized. He obtained permission from the Bishop of Orleans to invoke Joan during the Blessing of the sick in hopes that a miracle would occur that could be attributed to Joan's intercession. At the first invocation to Blessed Joan of Arc, Thérèse opened her eyes, at the second she sat up on her stretcher and at the third she felt she had been cured. Msgr. Cristiani later interviewed Thérèse and her Godmother about her illness. They informed him of the various stages of her sickness, the operations she had had and the remedies that had been used without effect. Her medical diagnosis was: Peritoneal and Pulmonary tuberculosis, complicated by an Organic Lesion of the Mitral Orifice. In plain English she had tuberculosis of her lungs and abdominal cavity which was complicated by an organic lesion of her mitral valve of her heart - obviously she was VERY sick.
The other recognized cure occurred to Miss Mirandelle who had a diagnosis of Perforating Plantar Affliction, which means she had a hole that went through the sole of her foot.
Joan was canonized in a grand and solemn ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica on May 16, 1920. Her feast day is celebrated on May 30, the day of her death.
On July 10, 1920, the French government officially made May 8th a national holiday. And by November 20th of this same year it resumed diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
At the five-hundredth anniversary of Joan's death, May 30, 1931, there was a grand celebration in Rouen to mark this anniversary. Representatives from the government, army, universities, parliament, magistrates, clergy and papacy attended. Even the Archbishop of Westminster, Prelate of all England, came to express his great admiration of her virtues.
Ever since her earliest childhood Joan prayed ardently from her heart. Her prayer life led her to a fervent faith in God. Her faith in God led her to love Him profoundly. This intense love led her to accept God's will for her life. If we will pray, believe and love as earnestly as Joan did, then we too will be used by God! This is the secret to Joan's sanctity, she listened, answered and obeyed. "Here I am Lord! I come to do Your will!" She stated at her trial, and her message to us is, "I believed it was an angel speaking to me, and I had the will to believe."
Once we are confirmed, we are all soldiers in the Army of Christ! So let us bravely attack the powers and principalities of the evil one in the world, going forward, like Joan, to defend and advance God's love and justice. Draw close to Christ in the Eucharist and stand firm upon His Word, so that you will remain faithful to Him in this passing world!