In the Footsteps of Joan of Arc
24 April, 2015
Joan of Arc is one of those unforgettable historical figures with a passionate biography. Her life has spawned a myriad of books and films that attempt to uncover the secrets of that mysterious personage. Born into times of upheaval, against the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War, she went from being a humble, illiterate countrywoman to leading an army of five thousand men, all prompted by her “visions”. It was God himself that talked to her and told her she had a mission to accomplish – to lead the French army and drive out the English in order to achieve the coronation of Charles VII of France. Quite a feat! This might seem outlandish to us now but, in the early 15th century, the role and power of religion were undisputed. Not for nothing were kings thus proclaimed “by the grace of God”. What’s more, the recipient of these visions was a brave and tenacious woman with powerful convictions.
Orleans, the City that Saw Her Triumph
One of the key moments in her life took place in Orleans, for which she was thenceforth known as the Maid of Orleans. On 8 May 1429 she accomplished one of her most extraordinary feats by liberating the city from the English, which marked the beginning of the reconquest of the occupied territories. To commemorate her victory, the Joan of Arc Festival is held in Orleans at this time every year at which her momentous feat is re-enacted through mock battles, accompanied by a modern festival event, the Set Electro Festival, with various DJ performances.
During the siege of Orleans, our heroine lived in the house of Jacques Boucher, treasurer to the Duke of Orleans. Rebuilt in 1960, it is currently known as the House of Joan of Arc. The building features a multimedia room, and a research and documentation centre for those wishing to learn more about the Maid of Orleans and her passage through the city.
For the more scholarly researchers, the Joan of Arc Centre houses one of the largest libraries on the subject, enabling visitors to consult a host of period manuscripts and documents.
Rouen – the Tragic End
After her passage through Orleans, Joan of Arc sought to lay down her arms, as she had ceased to have visions, but she was entreated to return to the battlefield and ended up acquiescing. This time things did not go so well. After being defeated in a number of campaigns, in 1430 she was captured by the Burgundians, handed over to the English and taken to Rouen. Here commenced the most arduous episode in her life. After a lengthy inquisitorial procedure, she was accused of heresy and witchcraft and sentenced to be burned at the stake.
During her interrogation, she was incarcerated in the Dungeon or Joan of Arc Tower, part of the castle built by Philippe Auguste in 1204. Still standing, the castle is open to the public.
The Archiepiscopal Palace, an acclaimed specimen of medieval architecture and the setting for part of the legal process was recently converted into the Historial Jeanne d’Arc. Inaugurated in March 2015, it is now the largest area dedicated to the memory of Joan of Arc. Its 1,000m2 of floor space is endowed with the latest technologies for narrating and unveiling the history of our heroine and taking us back to the period she lived in.
Joan of Arc was executed on 30 May 1431 in the Place du Vieux Marché, now an essential place of pilgrimage. The Church of Joan of Arc was built in the square in 1979, designed by the architect, Louis Arretche, for a dual purpose – to honour St Joan of Arc and as a civilian memorial to the heroine. The church was built on the very spot where the saint was burned alive, and the exact location of her martyrdom is duly marked.
How to Get There
Both destinations are a train journey of just over an hour away from Paris. The Orleans train runs from the Gare Austerlitz, while the Rouen line starts at the Gare Saint-Lazare.
Live out the story of Joan of Arc – check out our flights to Paris here.
Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Photos by fidber, Roger Salz and Edhral
24 April, 2015