Today on May 16, 1920, Joan of Arc was canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
Joan of Arc, nicknamed the Maid of Orleans, was born in the village of Domremy in northern France. Raised by a farming family, she never received a formal education and was unable to read or write. From an early age, she was brought up to be a devout Catholic and genuinely believed in God. At the time of her birth, France and England were in the midst of the bitter Hundred Years’ War. Joan’s country was on the brink of total collapse after countless defeats on the battlefield. Her family was eventually forced to flee south under threat of invasion.
Joan of Arc’s hostile and frightening upbringing undoubtedly played a significant role in developing her deep hatred for England. At the age of thirteen, she began hearing voices from God. She insisted the Lord had given her a divine mission: to save France from its enemies and help install Charles as the rightful King of France. In the spring of 1429, she miraculously convinced the royal court to grant her an audience with the Dauphin — the heir to France crown. The young teenage girl with no military experience boldly requested that Charles give her full control of the French army. Against all advice, he granted her request.
Joan of Arc promptly set off to relieve the besieged city of Orleans. She rode upon a white horse dressed in her distinctive white armor. The troops could easily spot their new commander. On April 29, 1429, she miraculously snuck around the English garrison and entered the city. She subsequently led many successful assaults against the English and eventually drove them back across the Loire river. The Maid of Orleans truly achieved a momentous victory over the far superior English forces.
The next later, Joan of Arc was captured during a skirmish with Burgundian soldiers at the siege of Compiegne. The Burgundians eventually transferred her over into the hands of the English. In 1431, she was tried by a kangaroo court of English nobles near the castle of Bouvreuil. The court found her guilty of 70 charges, including witchcraft, heresy, and dressing like a man. The English sentenced her to death after a year in captivity. The young age of nineteen-year-old savior of France burned at the stake. In an act of betrayal, King Charles VII — the man who owed everything to Joan — did not even attempt to negotiate for her life.
Interestingly, Joan of Arc received a posthumous retrial nearly twenty-five years after her execution. Pope Callixtus III ordered a nullification or rehabilitation proceeding at the request of Joan’s mother. She subsequently became a folk saint among French Catholics in the centuries that followed. In 1909, Pope Pius X beatified Joan of Arc in the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. A statue inside the cathedral still stands, paying tribute to her lasting legacy. Eleven years later, Pope Benedict XV canonized Joan in his bull Divina disponente. The Maid of Orleans continues to serve as an enduring symbol of French nationalism.