Over the course of the past 500 years, St. Joan of Arc has experienced arguably more variance of opinion than any other figure in the Catholic Church. Born in 1412 the French saint grew up during the Hundred Years War—the most turbulent time in the history of England and France. She led a siege on the English which proving instrumental, and as a turning point toward France’s ultimate victory. Vilified by a pro-English bishop, Joan was burned at the stake in 1431 as a heretic.
Although cleared of charges by Pope Callixtus IIIin in 1456, Joan was not officially canonized a saint until 1920—by Pope Benedict XV. Patron saint of soldiers and France, Joan also serves as a solid role model for women and for those facing corruption. Along with her being an epic national heroine for France, here are six other amazing facts you should know about St. Joan of Arc.
1. She was a tenacious teenager
Parents of children currently in middle and high school are quite aware of the fieriness of teenagers. Joan was no example. Dying at the mere age of 19, she accomplished more than the average adolescent. Aided by the Holy Spirit, Joan withstood the intense scrutiny of the ecclesial court trial. Listen to this portion of her 8th Privation Examination to get a sense of the hard-lined questioning she faced:
Examiner: “Do you know if Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret hate the English?”
Joan: “They love what God loves: they hate what God hates.”
Examiner: “Does God hate the English?”
Joan: “Of the love or hate God may have for the English, or of what He will do for their souls, I know nothing; but I know quite well that they will be put out of France, except those who shall die there, and that God will send victory to the French against the English.”
Examiner: “Was God for the English when they were prospering in France?”
Joan: “I do not know if God hated the French; but I believe that He wished them to be defeated for their sins, if they were in sin.”
Sounding like a typically obstinate teen, at least to prideful clergy, Joan quipped back without being baited into judging the English. She was simply carrying out the will of God!
2. She experienced victory through her visions
A second amazing fact about the life of Joan of Arc is that she received visions and guidance from God, angels, and saints. The most common “Voices” as she initially called them included a star-studded crew: St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Margaret of Antioch. The French saint achieved hope and strength in the face of adversity because of her devotion to the saints. In the Second Private Examination, Joan was questioned about the role of her visions. Here is a sample of that exchange:
Examiner: “Has not the Angel, then, failed you with regard to the good things of this life, in that you have been taken prisoner?”
Joan: “I think, as it has pleased Our Lord, that it is for my well-being that I was taken prisoner.”
Examiner: “Has your Angel never failed you in the good things of grace ?”
Joan: “How can he fail me, when he comforts me every day? My comfort comes from Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret.”
Examiner: “Do you call them, or do they come without being called?”
Joan: “They often come without being called; and other times, if they do not come soon, I pray Our Lord to send them.”
3. She had complete trust in her convictions
Another interesting thing about Joan was her complete and utter trust. Her convictions were so strong that she even ran away from home to join the army. This left her parents distraught! Certainly, if my children suddenly disappeared without my knowledge I would be full of worry. God does work in mysterious ways. Seriously though, he guided a young girl to join the ranks of the military! Not sure if I would possess that much trust.
As crazy and reckless Joan’s decision was she trusted in a greater Divine Plan. If you ever get told to trust in God’s will plan for the unexpected
— Joan definitely did!
4. She wore antagonistic apparel
While Joan’s expeditious enrollment into the French army seems odd enough, her refusal to don women’s clothing throughout her trial is even more interesting. As I read over a hundred pages of trial documents including both public and private cross examinations, a common theme persisted: her insistence to wear her military uniform. Maybe it was to gain influence in a male-dominated society. Perhaps Joan genuinely hated dresses. Regardless, she definitely would be considered a “tomboy” by today’s standards.
Her fashion idiosyncrasies together with her persistent temper certainly surprised the prosecution. So much that Joan was given at least 5 times to switch her garb. The next time a Catholic student complains about the uniform advise them at least it is not a life or death matter!
5. She was also intellectually brilliant
A fifth fact about St. Joan that I found truly amazing was her theological acumen. Along with being a courageous solider, she has great insight to offer the faithful. The Catechism of the Catholic Church directly references Joan four times: CCC 223, 435, 795, and 2005. When Joan’s judges attempted to create a false dichotomy and trap her into siding with God or the Church, she quipped, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” The wisdom and simplicity of her response reminds me of Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate.
6. She was likely a Southpaw
The sixth fact about St. Joan of Arc that I found fascinating relates to penmanship. According to modern handwriting experts, the French saint may have actually been left-handed. They determined this by looking at the stroke angles of the surviving manuscripts with her signature (https://www.jeanne-darc.info/biography/letters/ ) As a fellow southpaw, this is a cool connection I have with Joan. If you have a left-handed family member or friend please share this neat fact with them!
Joan of Arc exhibited high moral character in spite of a hostile secular and religious climate. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke exceptionally of her in his January 26th, 2011 General Audience:
Dear brothers and sisters, with her luminous witness St Joan of Arc invites us to a high standard of Christian living: to make prayer the guiding motive of our days; to have full trust in doing God’s will, whatever it may be; to live charity without favouritism, without limits and drawing, like her, from the Love of Jesus a profound love for the Church.
Let us also trust in God with the same fervor and consistently as St. Joan of Arc. Lead us in the battle of sin and into communion with our Savior Jesus Christ!