St Joan of Arc is a figure known to almost everyone, so it is somewhat surprising to realize that she gained such fame in so short a period of time. Her mission began in the year 1428, and she won her greatest victory the following year. She was martyred only two years later, having accomplished her mission of saving France. She was not yet 20 years old, and yet her deeds were so significant that she is one of the patron saints of France, along with King St. Louis IX, St. Martin of Tours, St. Denis, and St. Therese of Lisieux.
King Henry V of France died unexpectedly in 1422, leaving his infant son as heir to the throne of England and those areas of France under English control. The death of King Henry was a blow to the English, yet they still had very capable generals who continued to win victories against the French armies. After a devastating loss at Verneuil in 1424, France was so weak that they were unable to even field another army.
When it seemed that only a miracle could save France, thirteen-year-old St Joan of Arc suddenly came upon the scene to change the world.
It was during the summer of 1425 when St Michael began appearing to Joan, eventually informing her that God had an important mission for her to accomplish. He told her that Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine would soon appear to her. The apparitions of these saints were so real that St Joan of Arc could touch them, and she often listened to their instructions while hugging them about their legs. After instructing Joan the Maid for three years, they revealed to her the mission for which God had chosen her. She was responsible to see that the Dauphin was crowned King of France!
St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431.
In a scene that must have been most terrifying for Bishop Cauchon (if he had any conscience left at all), at one point Saint Joan of Arc looked him directly in the eye and said:
“Bishop, I die through you.”
St Joan of Arc prayed, and then was fastened to the stake. She asked for a cross when the wood was set ablaze all about her, and died with the name of Jesus on her lips.
Joan’s body was consumed by the flames, except for her heart, which remained perfectly intact. One is left to wonder if God permitted that courageous heart, which could not be defeated, to remain as her only witness. A condemnation to her murderers, it was thrown into the river, as if that could somehow wash away the truth. The King of England’s secretary fled from the scene shouting, “We are lost; we have burned a saint!”
Indeed, the English were lost. In was not long before they were completely driven from France, excepting the region around Calais. When England later left the Church under King Henry VIII, they did not take the French with them into the darkness of schism. The conclusion of the farcical trial was later justly overturned, and St Joan of Arc was declared a saint by Pope Benedict XV.