28 Jul,2016 By Jagabond
Sometimes a city or region gets pigeonholed because of its name. Does anyone think of Pisa and not imagine their ridiculously leaning tower? Can you possibly visit Vatican City and not run into some pope-themed, tacky souvenir? That’s why my expectations for variety were low when I visited the champagne region of France. I thought I’d check out a few champagne houses, and if I still had time…check out a few more. Don’t get me wrong, champagne is definitely a culture there and I had my fun with it.
However, the region has a rich war history as well, as it was the site of the German surrender to the Allies in World War II, and also where a famous female soldier hundreds of years ago had her ‘crowning’ achievement. Joan of Arc was a peasant girl and aspiring maid when she started to see visions and hear voices…usually not a good sign. In this case it was angels from heaven, providing counsel and guidance to her. One day, however, the angel came with a different message – to leave home and help the king fight for France. At the time in the early 15th century, the French were fighting a bloody war with the English and were on the verge of losing.
I’m sure Charles VII (played by Neil Patrick Harris in the TV adaption) was surprised when Joan arrived, and informed him of her mission – to carry out God’s will that the English be chased back to their homeland, and ensure that he, Charles, is crowned the rightful king of France. Charles was somehow convinced, and against all advice provided Joan with an army and sent her to Orleans, which was being ravaged by the English. Under Joan’s command, her army arrived to the battle in 1429, and after many successful assaults forced the English to retreat. Months later Joan finished another piece of her mission, as she crowned King Charles VII at the Cathedral in Reims…a stunning architectural marvel pictured below.
Are heroes destined to fall? Keep this question in mind as the story continues. Joan was injured during a battle in 1430, and was captured by the English. She was put on trial for multiple charges, including witchcraft and ‘dressing like a man’…very progressive culture back then. It’s possible Charles was scared of being discredited by this show trial, or maybe he was jealous of the fame Joan’s legend was attracting, but he decided not to negotiate for her release…thus turning his back on the soldier responsible for his coronation. At the age of 19, Joan was sentenced to death and burned at the stake in a town called Rouen…over 300 miles away from home, where she only left a few years before with nothing but a farewell to her parents and a seemingly crazy plan from God. What remains from her trial are some quotes, two of which I highlight below. The first can be viewed in both a religious and secular vein, talking about the importance of having conviction for your beliefs. The second is just some tough language that shows how hardcore of a soldier she was.
“One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”
“Of the love or hatred God has for the English, I know nothing, but I do know that they will all be thrown out of France, except those who die there.”
It took twenty-five years to clear Joan’s name, but it finally happened in July of 1456, in what was termed the ‘rehabilitation’. Her family petitioned the church to re-examine her trial, and they declared the previous verdict nullified, and thus Joan was now innocent. Hundreds of years later, in 1920, she was canonized by the pope, and is now a patron saint of France. She has a majestic statue in her honor outside the Cathedral in Reims, as shown below. Good job, soldier…your country could’ve used a warrior like you in modern times. Vive la France!