Joan of Arc Mysteries

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 30, 2006 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

About two weeks ago a story ran about tests underway to determine whether or not a rib bone and piece of cloth supposedly recovered after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake are hers. The bone and cloth were taken from the pyre and conserved by an apothecary until 1867, when they were turned over to the Archdiocese of Tours. They are now stored at a museum in Chinon. According to legend, all the ashes were thrown into the Seine River and nothing of her was kept or recovered.

Joan was burned to death on May 30, 1431 in the Normandy town of Rouen. She was accused of being a witch, a heretic and apostate. One of the things she was forbidden to do was resume wearing men’s clothes. When she did so it was the spark that lit the fire. The cleric presiding over her trial, Bishop Pierre Cauchon, was an ally and agent of the English.

As a warrior-maiden, Joan was the saint I most identified with growing up. When I first traveled to France in the early ’80s, I made a point to go to Rouen to see the place where she met her death. The spot held an aura. Parts of the town square have remained largely unchanged since the 15th century, so you could scan in the distance the timbered buildings and imagine what the 19 year old saw before the smoke and flames blotted out the view. To be burned alive has to be one of the most horrible ways to die. Cauchon probably knew she wasn’t a sorceress, but burning her would eliminate a threat to his political designs. Some parts of the Church never change.

One of the most interesting pieces of the Joan of Arc puzzle is her close association with the nobleman, Gilles de Rais. He was one of her brothers-in-arms, and probably saved her life during the Battle of Orleans. In the years after Joan’s death, he abandoned himself into a life of depravity and murder, credited with raping and killing over 300 boys, girls, and youths as part of sadistic sexual practices. It is fascinating to consider his devotion to a young woman who was inspired by angels. Just a few years later, he butchered children, allegedly as part of satanic rites. It is fascinating how his religiousity manifested itself in extremes of good and evil, and how they co-existed for so many years in the same body and spirit. If Joan had lived would he have been any different? Did her death ultimately also condemn all those children?

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