Joan of Arc, as drawn by a soldier in her army
Joan of Arc was born in 1412 in a small town in northeast France. Her parents were very religious, and she grew up close to the church. She loved spending time there, hearing all the old Bible stories of Jesus, Mary, the disciples, David, Moses, Joseph, and all the other people of faith in the Bible. Being Roman Catholic, she also heard stories of the many saints who lived faithful lives in the years since Bible times. Joan was inspired by these stories, and though she never learned to read or write, she had a deep faith in Jesus Christ and was devoted to serving God.
Joan lived near the end of the Hundred Years War between France and England. This war was fought entirely in France and devastated the nation. English troops often used a ‘scorched earth’ policy, destroying villages, farms, and crops in defeated areas. Joan’s own village of Domremy had been burned by English soldiers. The English were firmly in control in Northern France during Joan’s childhood.
When she was thirteen years old, Joan received a vision of three saints, Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret. They told her that God wanted her to lead the armies of France and drive out the English. Joan said, “I am a poor girl. I do not know how to ride or to fight.” The saints told her, “It is God who commands this.”
The faithful Joan was not about to disobey God, so she asked a relative to give her a ride to a nearby town where some French troops were stationed. She spoke to the company commander and told him she wanted to be brought to see the King because she had a message for him from the Lord God Almighty. The commander said, “Are you nuts?” (or something like that), and sent her away. A few months later, she tried again, this time finding a soldier who at least listened long enough for her to say: “I must be at the King’s side. There will be no help for France if not from me. I would rather remain at my mother’s side spinning wool, but I must do this, for it is the Lord who commands it.”
It took a while, but at the age of seventeen, Joan finally appeared before the King. He was impressed with her, and allowed her to join the army. One historian wrote, “After years of defeat, the French leadership and military were discredited and demoralized. Only in desperation would a king pay any attention to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that the voice of God instructed her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory.”
Joan joined the army, and in no time at all, she became its spiritual and inspirational leader, fearlessly leading the troops into battle. In time, she was even looked to for advice on military strategy. In the year that she led the army, they enjoyed remarkable success, and against all odds, drove the English back. It was nothing short of miraculous.
When Joan was eighteen, she was betrayed and captured. After a long trial, she was sentenced to death, and burned at the stake at the age of nineteen.
Twenty five years after her death, the Pope ordered a retrial, at which she was declared innocent. As time went on, the church began to acknowledge her devotion and obedience to God, and saw her death as the death of a martyr of the faith. In 1909 the Roman Catholic Church canonized her as a saint.
There is much more that could be said about Joan of Arc—her courage, her leadership, and her powerful words of faith were amazing. Visions from God are rare, but such occurrences are in the Bible, and in Joan’s case, the visions seem to be valid. But even that is not the most astounding part of her story. Even more astounding was the way God was with her, gifting her and guiding her after the visions. This was just a brief overview. There are countless astonishing details in her well documented life.
Mark Twain was a cynic and a skeptic and a bitter critic when it came to most things religious— except regarding Joan of Arc. He was fascinated by Joan and her faith, and he spent twelve years studying her life. Twain wrote a biography of Joan which he said he liked best of all his books. Twain said Joan of Arc was by far the most extraordinary person the human race ever produced. He wrote of her:
When we reflect that her century was the brutalest, the wickedest, the rottenest in history since the darkest ages, we are lost in wonder at the miracle of such a product from such a soil. The contrast between her and her century is the contrast between day and night. She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest, and fine, and delicate when to be loud and coarse might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true to an age that was false to the core; she maintained her personal dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul in both. She was all these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes, and when the highest personages in Christendom were able to astonish even that infamous era and make it stand aghast at the spectacle of their atrocious lives black with unimaginable treacheries, butcheries, and beastialities.
Joan of Arc was perhaps the most wonderful person who ever lived in the world. The story of her life is so strange that we could scarcely believe it to be true, if all that happened to her had not been told by people in a court of law, and written down by her deadly enemies, while she was still alive.
–Andrew Lang, The Story of Joan of Arc, 1906.
Luke 10:27 — Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.
Romans 12:1 — I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
If I am not in the state of grace, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.
–Joan of Arc, at her trial, February 24, 1431.