And Now I Know How Joan Of Arc Felt

“I am not afraid. I was born for this.”

–Joan of Arc, May 13, 1428

…I got in an argument with my ex the other day, which led to me making a passionate speech. She was mad about something vitally important, and I got mad back. When I get mad I become incoherent along the lines of a well-educated five year old. “I feel like I’m being burnt at the stake here!” I yelled. “Yes, I feel like I’m being burnt at the stake, like, like… Joan of Arc or something! Yes, you’re burning me at the stake like I’m Joan of Arc!” Good one; way to go, self! Man, passionate speech is always a bad idea.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” my ex said, which made no sense in context. Then she threw a glass at me. Eventually, we got over it. Later on, I sat in bed, sulking after our fight. I rubbed my left arm, which has a tattoo of the Cross of Lorraine, which is a French Fascist symbol (didn’t learn that one until after I got the tattoo), as well as a symbol of Joan of Arc. Did I want to be Joan of Arc? My ex’s stupid words still made no sense.

_____

So. This year marks the 670th anniversary of the death of Joan of Arc. That’s a little #grimanddark, but we can’t celebrate her birth, because we don’t know exactly when she was born.

On May 30th, 1431, she was executed in front of a crowd in the village marketplace in Rouen, in northern France. Her last words were “Jesus!” — which are pretty good last words, I guess. However, Joan of Arc had a fairly practical reason for saying “Jesus!” She was shouting the word “Jesus” because she was being goddamn burned alive.

And why should you care about Joan of Arc’s death? You should care about it because Joan of Arc was amazing and awesome.

_____

As a kid, I was obsessed with Joan of Arc, because I read in a book that she was “burnt to the stake.” Because I couldn’t spell correctly, and because I had confused cartoons with reality, I thought this meant that when she was burned to death, all that was left of her was a juicy T-bone steak. This obviously turned out not to be true, but the whole steak/stake thing was sufficiently gory to capture my imagination, and so I started reading lots of books about Joan of Arc and about medieval history.

Anyway, where was I? So. Joan of Arc. So in reality, when she was killed, Joan of Arc did not metamorphose into a steak, T-bone or porterhouse or otherwise. In reality, she was burned until she was nothing. Ashes and nothing.

_____

After Joan of Arc was dead, troubadours claimed that she was followed into battle by gossamer clouds of birds and butterflies, who trailed along in pursuit of her banner. This is, of course, complete bullshit.

But Joan of Arc did do amazing things. She fought in battle after being shot by an arrow. She jumped from a two-story building onto her horse. To escape prison, she jumped 70 feet from the window of a tower — and was completely unhurt. …And also, oh yeah, she crowned a king, rescued a city, and saved the nation of France.

Oh, and she may also have talked to God.

_____

…Signs and wonders. Who was she? She was no one; a nobody from nowhere. But as a teenager, Joan started hearing voices from God. These voices told her to go to the prince’s court; they told her that she would take the prince to the city of Rheims, where she would crown him king. They told her that she would capture the city of Orleans and force the English out of France.

And she did it all. It was ridiculous to think that a teenage girl in the 15th century could do anything like this, but she did it. And she wasn’t just a girl but a broke illiterate peasant girl. A peasant from a town in the middle of nowhere. Still, she crowned a king and led an army, she saved the city of Orleans from the English.

France had been losing a war to England for a generation. It had no king. England ruled the kingdom of France. Joan of Arc fixed all of this. She saved an entire country.

_____

But no one saved her. She told her people that archangels had spoken to her. She saved the city; she made a king. She did both of those things. And then the king asked her to recapture Paris from the English.

This is the weird part. Joan’s reply was this: “Um, God never said that I would do that.” That’s weird. Usually when people are crazy, they become, like, megalomaniacal. But Joan wasn’t crazy. We have hundreds of pages of transcripts from her trial. She was normal and modest and polite. She was normal and modest and polite even though she was an eighteen year-old on trial for her life, and the trial was rigged, and she knew this.

Usually when people say that they talked to God and can now perform miracles, a standard thing happens. They end by saying this, “Oh, and God al-lllso said that you should give me all your money! And have sex with me!” …Y’know. Stuff like that.

Joan never said anything like that. Which is why I still wonder if she actually talked to the archangels. Maybe she did. When the king asked her to capture Paris, she said (and I’m paraphrasing here),”Um, the angels never said anything about that, but I’ll give it a shot.”

It didn’t work out. She never made it to Paris. The English captured her in a small town miles away from Paris. They grabbed her from her horse and threw her to the ground. And then they put her on trial for her life, in the city of Rouen. Her king could have easily paid a ransom and saved her life, but he didn’t. No one knows why.

_____

And then she lost the trial, which was rigged anyway. …We think that things are going to save us, that someone or something is going to intercede, but are we so sure? No one saved Joan of Arc, after all. God didn’t step in to save her, and her king certainly didn’t. They let her burn.

“…Ah, Rouen,” she said. “I fear that some great thing may happen to you on account of my death.” …She was standing on a stage, surrounded by pieces of wood — the wooden stage; the pieces of wood that would be used to burn her. She was facing all the townspeople. What did it all look like to her? Were the townspeople dirty? Did they smell bad? Was there a horse standing off in the distance? Was someone in the front row maybe not paying attention, maybe picking his nose? It must have all looked so vivid to her. What could she have been thinking at that moment? It’s so rare to know that you’re doing something for the last time; the last time that you sleep with a lover or anything like that. These were the last words that she would ever say; these were her last seconds on earth.

“I fear that some great thing may happen to you on account of my death,” she said.

And then the executioner set her on fire.

_____

…After she was burned, the English parted the coals around her body, so that the crowd could see that she was really dead. Then they burnt her body again. And then they burnt her body a third time. They reduced her body to pure ash, so that no one from the crowd could take a relic to remember her by.

A few hours after her execution, the executor was found drunkenly stumbling around Rouen. He was moaning to himself. “We are damned!” he said. “We have burnt a saint!”

The English took Joan of Arc’s ashes and put them in a bucket, and then they dumped the bucket into the river Seine. The river Seine flows from a plateau in the heart of France to the Atlantic Ocean.

So after she was dead, Joan of Arc’s ashes were carried by the river current. They traveled north, past Paris, where she had never been; then further north, past the town where she was born. The river continued north, until it met landfall, oceanfall, and then the river became the sea. Her ashes were carried out into the ocean, which she had never seen.

Her ashes are still a part of the ocean.  TC mark

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More From Thought Catalog

  • Eve

    So, my opinion of thought catalog, like all things, oscillates. Some mornings I get on facebook and am thrilled every time I scroll past a link to a thought catalog article, because all said articles are awesome. Other times they are all really whiny and superficial and frankly piss me off enough that I almost want to delete thought catalog from my feed. But then this morning I read My Life As a Garbage Man (in public, it bears mentioning), and I couldn’t stop laughing to save my soul (much less my dignity.) 
    Then I saw this article, and it felt auspicious, because I’ve basically been listening to only that song all week. Like it was already stuck in my head before I read THIS article. 
    Which was also awesome.
    Like Joan of Arc. 
    Like you. 

    Oliver Miller, you’re officially my new favorite thing on TC.

    xoxoxoxo

  • http://twitter.com/MarcusSweden1 Marcus Björklund

    Eh, the Cross of Lorraine, A.K.A. the patriarchal cross, is NOT a French “fascist” symbol. First of all, France is not the only nation that uses it. Slovakia, Hungary, Belarus, and Lithuania uses it too. Second, it’s originally a Christian and a Roman-Catholic symbol, dating back to the Crusades and the Knight Templars, who carried it. Third, while it was used by Vichy France, it was also used by The Free French Forces led by General Charles de Gaulle, who had picked that symbol as an anti-Nazi symbol (against the Nazi version of the Swastika). Both Vichy France and de Gaulle picked it because it symbolizes French resistance: for the Vichy regime against UK, which had attacked the French Navy during Operation Catapult in 1940; for the Free French Forces, against Nazi Germany, which occupied about half of France and have had annexed the provinces Lorraine and Alsace, and which ideology was partially anti-Christian.

    • Oliver Miller

      Oh, man, we did this the last time I talked about this.  It’s a far-right symbol in France, currently.  It’s like if I had a tattoo of, say, Sarah Palin on my arm (if I was in France, that is).

      • Internetstranger

        Uh, no. I’m not saying that there isn’t a far-right group that uses it, but that’s not what anyone is going to interpret it as. The Cross of Lorraine is a very common symbol, and, in France, the most common association that it holds is that of the Free French Forces and general anti-Vichy sentiment, which is decidedly not right-wing in ideology (save arguably nationalistic notions of French as a hermetic entity upon which cultural encroachment is a threat, which is QUITE A REACH). No one would assume that you’re a conservative for having it. It may be met with some raised eyebrows because France has a very off-kilter relationship with its own behavior during the occupation (watch The Sorrow and the Pity, if you haven’t), and so for an outsider to communicate a strong allegiance to a Resistance force is very unusual. It isn’t whatsoever like having a tattoo of Sarah Palin on your arm. If anything, it’s comparable to a Frenchman getting a tattoo of the Union Jack.

        Also, if you’re interested in Joan of Arc’s trial, you should watch Procès de Jeanne d’Arc (by Bresson) and La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (by Dreyer). They’re incredible.

      • Oliver Miller

        Well, that’s good then!  This is good news.  I’ve never been to France, even.  My favorite country is Belgium, though, which is mini-France, sort of.

        I read the biography by Vita Sackville-West, and then A Distant Mirror and a shitload of medieval history, which I love.  I should see The Passion of Joan of Arc, though I’ve never made it through an entire silent movie, to be honest.

      • Oliver Miller

        I have a modified cross, anyway, which doesn’t look like the official cross.  Sort of:

        +
        _

        +

        So French people would likely just be confused.  Confused and snobby.

      • http://twitter.com/MarcusSweden1 Marcus Björklund

         If you with “far-right” groups talk about the likes of the National Front (not to be confused with the French communist Resistance movement during WWII), then I don’t see how Sarah Palin would be an apt analogy. Ignoramus she may be, but I haven’t heard her say anything racist or fascist. Please correct me if I’m wrong in that regard.

      • Oliver Miller

        Welll, she tried to ban books when she was mayor, which is a step in the fascist direction.  But mostly it’s that I hate her.

  • AJ

    You’ve done it again Mr Oliver.

  • Lilym

    Hey Oliver Miller, do you want to go on a date?

    • Oliver Miller

      Sure.

      • Lilym

        cool

  • guest

    you’re gonna save this website

  • Mila

    Thanks for writing this. Really.

  • Anonymous

    I went to Rouen last summer to see where she was burned at the stake. It’s now just a pile of boulders surrounding a church with nine million tourist shops around it. It sort of ruined the whole Joan of Arc thing for me. 

    p.s. I still think we’re going to get married, Oliver. 

    • Oliver Miller

      I still don’t even know if you’re a guy or a girl!

  • palmer

    you must be hard up for money again because that’s when you always seem to post the most. it’s nice though…for the readers and fan girls. bitches and hoes, bitches and hoes. 

  • Rachel Butters Scotch

    i want to be president of the oliver miller fan club

  • Natalie

    ahh you’ve restored my faith in tc

  • Marie

    Love your article, though it is geographically incorrect: Rouen is something like 120 miles at the North of Paris and 210 miles at the North of Joan’s village, Domremy, so the current couldn’t have brought her ashes there.
    Plus historically speaking, England did not rule the entire country back then, they controlled the Nothern part of France plus the Burgundy region with the help of the Burgundians.
    Anyway, the Hundred Years’ War was a mess. Thank you so much for a great article !!!

    • Oliver Miller

      Right, but still, the river goes past those areas, even if it doesn’t literally go through those towns.  

      And yes, the English didn’t rule the entire country, the French did still have some of the south, but they had no king and were defeated, basically. One of their prior kings had literally surrendered and moved to England (!), which is about as defeated as you can get. And “all went wrong with the Kingdom and the state was undone. Thieves and robbers rose up everywhere in the land. The nobles despised and hated all others and took no thought for the mutual usefulness and profit of lord and men. They subjected and despoiled the peasants and the men of the villages. In no wise did they defend their country from enemies. Rather did they trample it underfoot, robbing and pillaging the peasants’ goods.”  Which is pretty bad.

      • Oliver Miller

        Also also, I did not want to explain the ent-iiire history of the Hundreds Year War, lest everyone just stop reading this article.

  • Tiffany

    Man! Do these people kiss your ass! Also, remember when I was living in Prague and you sent me a long email written by Joan of Arc about the sadness of a hungry dog?

    • Oliver Miller

      That was a parody, but yes.  YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT JOAN OF ARC.

      • Tiffany

        Dear Tiffany:
        I know not what you wot.  But, by Jesus blood, there is not a thing in the world more miserableu than the song of a dying chein.  Think on’t, sometime.  Say bonjour to Ambrose for me. I espy Olivier has been plus plus frommaged by your grande silence on the magik messaging box.  Let it not happene againe.  C’est plus mal.  –Joan of Arc

      • Oliver Miller

        Pleeease don’t do this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Ray/764227994 Brian Ray

    At first I was excited because I saw a Smiths reference in the title. Then I saw the link to the Placebo cover and I almost had an aneurysm. 

    A pretty good overview of the life (and death) of the French martyr. Brings me back to the days of Age of Empires II, if I dare say. 

    • Oliver Miller

      That whole Smiths cover album is really great.

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