Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Feast of St. Joan of Arc

Jeanne d'Arc -- Joan of Arc to us in the Anglosphere -- was born in 1412 -- likely on the Feast of the Epiphany. The town in which she was born was then known as the city of Domrémy in the province of Lorraine, on the far East side of France near the border of Germany. To find these places now, you must know that Domrémy has been renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle in her honor ("pucelle" means "virgin maid"), and the province of Lorraine has been subsumed into a region called Grand Est in the department of Vosges. But we get ahead of ourselves...

When Joan was born, the Hundred Years War -- which actually lasted for 116 years -- had been raging for seventy-five years. This war was, in essence, the English royal family (the Plantagenets) and their relatives in Burgundy struggling with the French royal family (the Valois) over who should control the French throne -- the English laying their claim because their royalty descended from William the Conqueror, a Norman who invaded England and won at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (this is "the Norman Conquest" of England).

Indeed, though this war was interspersed with periodic truces, England -- known to the Church as "Our Lady's Dowry" -- and France -- known to the Church as "the Eldest Daughter of the Church" -- were in a bloody conflict, and France had internal struggles over who should sit on the French throne.

Joan's father, Jacques, was a farmer -- but one with property, about 50 acres worth. Joan helped him with his animals, and spun their wool. Her mother, Isabelle, taught Joan and Joan's four siblings the Faith, ensuring that Joan grew to be a very pious girl. One lovely little detail that comes down through history to us is that Joan and her friends would go play around a great ancient beech tree known as "the Fairies' Tree" or the "Ladies' Tree" and weave floral garlands for the Blessed Virgin.

When Joan was around 13 years of age, in 1425, the martial goings-on came to her own village: the English plundered the place, stealing the town's cattle. It was that same year that Joan had her first vision, a meeting with St. Michael the Archangel, accompanied by a host of angels. The transcripts of her trial tell us  she said,

The first time that I heard this Voice, I was very much frightened; it was mid-day, in the summer, in my father's garden. I had not fasted the day before. I heard this Voice to my right, towards the Church; rarely do I hear it without its being accompanied also by a light. This light comes from the same side as the Voice. Generally it is a great light.

When asked if she literally saw St. Michael and a host of angels, she replied,

I saw them with my bodily eyes as well as I see you; and when they left me, I wept; and I fain would have had them take me with them too.

She was to have many such visions, most often when the bells were rung at the hours of Matins and Compline. These visions were not only of St. Michael and lesser angels, but of St. Margaret of Antioch and St. Catherine of Alexandria, two of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and both virgin martyrs as Joan would be.1

The Saints told her that she will drive out the English and see the rightful king enthroned, all in accordance with very old prophecies -- attributed to the likes of the sibyls and the mythical Merlin -- that an armed, virgin maiden would one day save France. To accomplish this, they instructed her to go to Robert de Baudricourt, captain of the royal garrison in the town of Vaucouleurs, and ask to be taken to see the Dauphin (the oldest son of France's king) in the city of Chinon. In 1428, she did, accompanied by her uncle, but Baudricourt sent her home, telling her escort, "Take her home to her father and give her a good whipping." A year later she returned, but again she was refused. A month after the second visit, she tried once more, and this time, having gained the support of two of Baudricourt's men, and after France's situation having grown more bleak, she got her wish. She was given an escort of six men, and with them -- after having cropped her hair and, at the command of her Voices,  while dressed in men's clothing of black doublet, black tunic, and black cap -- she went to see the man she hoped would be the future king.

She describes her meeting with him like this:

I got there towards mid-day, and lodged first at an inn. After dinner, I went to the King [then Dauphin], who was at the Castle. When I entered the room where he was I recognized him among many others by the counsel of my Voice, which revealed him to me. I told him that I wished to go and make war on the English.

She and the Dauphin spoke at length, and she impressed him greatly. He, too, knew of the prophecies that a virgin maid would save France -- but he wanted to be sure that Joan was maid predicted. So he had women examine her to ensure her virginity. Then, as the transcripts of her trial relate, "for three weeks she was examined by the clergy, at Chinon and Poitiers; and her king had a sign touching of her mission before he believed in her. The clergy of her party held that there was nothing but good in her mission." What this "sign" was is never revealed, but it's commonly believed that it centered on the Dauphin's secret doubts about the legitimacy of his birth -- doubts which Joan put to rest by the counsel of her heavenly visitors.

Finally convinced of the truth of her visions, the Dauphin had armor made for her, but she refused his gift of a sword. Instead, the transcripts tell us that Joan said

that when she was at Tours or Chinon she sent for a sword which was in the church of Ste. Catherine de Fierbois, behind the altar; and immediately it was found there all rusted over.

Asked how she knew that this sword was there, she answered that the sword was in the ground, rusted over, and upon it were five crosses; and she knew it was there through her voices, and she had never seen the man who fetched it. She wrote to the clergy of the place asking if it was their pleasure that she should have the sword, and they sent it to her. Nor was it buried deep behind the altar, but she believed she wrote saying it was behind. She added that as soon as the sword was found the priests rubbed it, and the rust fell off at once without effort; a merchant, an armorer of Tours, fetched it. The local priests gave her a scabbard, as did those of Tours also; they made two in all, one of crimson velvet, in French "de velous vermeil", and the other of cloth of gold. She herself had another made of very strong leather.

Then she received her standard: a white flag sprinkled with lilies, adorned with the words "Jesus, Maria," and with a kneeling angel on each side.

She was ready for battle. Before she left, she must have spoken to a man named Sire de Rotslaer, a Flemish diplomat: on the 22nd of April of that year (1429), he wrote a letter to Belgium, a letter that still exists today. In it, he indicated that Joan had said

that she would save Orléans and would compel the English to raise the siege, that she herself in a battle before Orléans would be wounded by a shaft but would not die of it, and that the King, in the course of the coming summer, would be crowned at Reims, together with other things which the King keeps secret.

All of these things came true: On the 29th of April, she entered
Orléans and was greeted with great enthusiasm, easily winning the support of the troops there. She inspired them to act with courage such that on May 4, they went on the offensive, capturing the English forts in the area and lifting their seige. Then, on May 7, she was wounded by an arrow that landed between her neck and shoulder, just as she'd predicted to the diplomat.

After a few days of recovery, she went on to rid towns of the English all along the Loire -- the river that led to Reims, where she wanted the Dauphin to be crowned King. This wish came true on July 17. Joan was there in attendance, given a place of honor at the coronation of Charles VII, her standard in hand.

In August, Montépilloy was liberated, and by September, her attention turned to freeing Paris. During the skirmishes there, she lost many men, and was shot in the thigh with a crossbow. To add insult to injury, the new King ordered an end to the assault, and worked out a truce that ceded some territories to the Duke of Burgundy. Joan wanted to continue to fight, but stood down in compliance.

In November, her army took Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier, and followed up with trying to liberate La-Charité-sur-Loire. Here, though, they suffered a defeat, which diminished her value in the King's eyes.

Early the next year, in 1430, the Duke of Burgundy tried to assert control over territories that had been ceded to him by the king, but whose residents resisted. Melun and Lagny-sur-Marne were two such places, and Joan and her men victoriously sided with the resisters. Compiègne was another such place. But it was here, on May 23, where Joan was arrested -- as she knew she would be: the Voices had told her that she would be taken prisoner by midsummer.

The Burgundians who captured her made arrangements with the English: the latter would pay the Burgundians a ransom, and custody of Joan would be given to them. They made the trade and took her to Rouen. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

No words can adequately describe the disgraceful ingratitude and apathy of Charles and his advisers in leaving the Maid to her fate. If military force had not availed, they had prisoners like the Earl of Suffolk in their hands, for whom she could have been exchanged. Joan was sold by John of Luxembourg to the English for a sum which would amount to several hundred thousand dollars in modern money. There can be no doubt that the English, partly because they feared their prisoner with a superstitious terror, partly because they were ashamed of the dread which she inspired, were determined at all costs to take her life. They could not put her to death for having beaten them, but they could get her sentenced as a witch and a heretic.

Moreover, they had a tool ready to their hand in Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, an unscrupulous and ambitious man who was the creature of the Burgundian party. A pretext for invoking his authority was found in the fact that Compiègne, where Joan was captured, lay in the Diocese of Beauvais. Still, as Beauvais was in the hands of the French, the trial took place at Rouen — the latter see being at that time vacant. This raised many points of technical legality which were summarily settled by the parties interested.

The Vicar of the Inquisition at first, upon some scruple of jurisdiction, refused to attend, but this difficulty was overcome before the trial ended. Throughout the trial Cauchon's assessors consisted almost entirely of Frenchmen, for the most part theologians and doctors of the University of Paris. Preliminary meetings of the court took place in January, but it was only on 21 February, 1431, that Joan appeared for the first time before her judges. She was not allowed an advocate, and, though accused in an ecclesiastical court, she was throughout illegally confined in the Castle of Rouen, a secular prison, where she was guarded by dissolute English soldiers. Joan bitterly complained of this. She asked to be in the church prison, where she would have had female attendants. It was undoubtedly for the better protection of her modesty under such conditions that she persisted in retaining her male attire. Before she had been handed over to the English, she had attempted to escape by desperately throwing herself from the window of the tower of Beaurevoir, an act of seeming presumption for which she was much browbeaten by her judges. This also served as a pretext for the harshness shown regarding her confinement at Rouen, where she was at first kept in an iron cage, chained by the neck, hands, and feet. On the other hand she was allowed no spiritual privileges — e.g. attendance at Mass — on account of the charge of heresy and the monstrous dress (difformitate habitus) she was wearing.

As regards the official record of the trial, which, so far as the Latin version goes, seems to be preserved entire, we may probably trust its accuracy in all that relates to the questions asked and the answers returned by the prisoner. These answers are in every way favourable to Joan. Her simplicity, piety, and good sense appear at every turn, despite the attempts of the judges to confuse her. They pressed her regarding her visions, but upon many points she refused to answer. Her attitude was always fearless, and, upon 1 March, Joan boldly announced that "within seven years' space the English would have to forfeit a bigger prize than Orléans." In point of fact Paris was lost to Henry VI on 12 November, 1437 — six years and eight months afterwards.

Found guilty of heresy, she was taken to a church yard to be publicly accused. Here, "from fear of the fire," her fortitude seems to have failed her, and she was given -- and signed -- a document of abjuration, denying her Voices. As to this abjuration, though, the Catholic Encyclopedia says, 

She consented to sign some sort of retraction, but what the precise terms of that retraction were will never be known. In the official record of the process a form of retraction is in inserted which is most humiliating in every particular. It is a long document which would have taken half an hour to read. What was read aloud to Joan and was signed by her must have been something quite different, for five witnesses at the rehabilitation trial, including Jean Massieu, the official who had himself read it aloud, declared that it was only a matter of a few lines.

She was told to refrain from dressing in men's clothing, had her head shaved, and was returned to the secular prison to be kept in chains and guarded by men in spite of her accusers having promised to put her in an ecclesiastical prison and allowing her to be attended to by women.

Her Voices spoke to her again, and reprimanded her for her abjuration. So, she took back her denial of the Voices, and resumed dressing in men's clothing since she was being guarded by men. For the former, she was found guilty of relapsing into heresy, was excommunicated, and was sentenced to die. On My 30, 1431, she was taken to the marketplace in Rouen and tied to a pillar. She asked that a Cross be brought to her, and one of the English soldiers there tied two sticks together to form one to give to her. She kissed it, and a fire was lit under her. Someone else had brought the processional Cross from the local church, and she fixed her eyes on it as she was consumed by the flames. After she was dead, her ashes were thrown into the Seine River. She was nineteen years old.

Twenty-four years after she was killed, the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, a

revision of her trial, the procès de réhabilitation, was opened at Paris with the consent of the Holy See. The popular feeling was then very different, and, with but the rarest exceptions, all the witnesses were eager to render their tribute to the virtues and supernatural gifts of the Maid. The first trial had been conducted without reference to the pope; indeed it was carried out in defiance of St. Joan's appeal to the head of the Church. Now an appellate court constituted by the pope, after long inquiry and examination of witnesses, reversed and annulled the sentence pronounced by a local tribunal under Cauchon's presidency. The illegality of the former proceedings was made clear, and it speaks well for the sincerity of this new inquiry that it could not be made without inflicting some degree of reproach upon both the King of France and the Church at large, seeing that so great an injustice had been done and had so long been suffered to continue unredressed.

She was canonized by Pope St. Pius X on April 11, 1909.

You can visit the house in which Joan was born ("la maison natale de Jeanne d'Arc") in Domrémy-la-Pucelle today. Right next to her home is her parish church, now named partly in her honor -- l'Église Saint-Rémy de Domrémy-la-Pucelle. It is between her home and this church where she first heard the heavenly Voices that inspired her to become the woman we honor today.

.On the left, Joan's home; on the right, her parish church


Some may prepare for this feast by praying a Novena to St. Joan starting on May 21 and ending on May 29. For her feast itself, the Litany of St. Joan of Arc would be the perfect prayer.

All throughout the year, Joan is memorialized in different ways in various places in France. In Vaucouleurs, where she'd met Baudricourt, her memory is honored in February with great medieval reenactments. In Domrémy-la-Pucelle, her birthplace, she is feted on the second Sunday of May. In Orl
éans in May, Joan is celebrated with recreations of her arrival there, military parades, theatrical events, and other festivities. Reims, too -- the city where French kings are crowned -- celebrates her then as well. Rouen, where she was martyred, has its own celebrations for the ten days that precede her feast. But all of these celebrations honor Joan more as a patriotic figure than as a Saint. On one level, Joan is to monarchists and traditionalists what the figure of Marianne is to people on the Left in France; on another level, she is a symbol of French patriotism itself. For ex., during World War I, it was common for French soldiers to carry her image when going into battle. And using her to rally the troops isn't -- or at least wasn't -- just a French affair. This American song -- "Joan of Arc, They are Calling You" -- was written in 1917, during World War I:

Joan of Arc, They are Calling You
By Alfred Bryan, Willie Weston, and Jack Wells

While you are sleeping,
Your France is weeping,
Wake from your dreams, Maid of France.
Her heart is bleeding;
Are you unheeding?
Come with the flame in your glance;
Through the Gates of Heaven, with your sword in hand,
Come your legions to command.

Joan of Arc, Joan of Arc,
Do your eyes, from the skies, see the foe?
Don't you see the drooping Fleurdelis?
Can't you hear the tears of Normandy?
Joan of Arc, Joan of Arc,
Let your spirit guide us through;
Come lead your France to victory;
Joan of Arc, they are calling you.

Alsace is sighing,
Lorraine is crying,
Their mother, France, looks to you.
Her sons at Verdun;
Bearing the burden,
Pray for your coming anew;
At the Gates of Heaven, do they bar your way?
Souls that passed through yesterday.

For us Catholics, Joan is all that, of course, but she is much more. She is a part of the Church Triumphant, an example of fortitude for us, and a great Saint who will pray for us.

As for music, the two songs below are much more fitting for her feast than the song above. The second -- Cantate à l'Etendard -- was written in 1899 by the Abbé Marcel Laurent of Orléans, with verses by Gustave Vié, Archbishop of Monaco; it's sung every year in Orléans, and is so popular that it was once considered as an alternative to France's national anthem, La Marseillaise:

Chant à Ste. Jeanne

Jeanne, Seigneur, est ton oeuvre splendide.
Un coeur de feu, une âme de guerrier,
Tu les donnas à la vierge timide,
La couronnant de lis et de laurier.

Sainte Jeanne de France,
Notre espérance Repose en vous,
Sainte Jeanne de France,
Priez, priez pour nous!

Jeanne entendit, dans son humble prairie,
Des voix du ciel l'appeler aux combats ;
Elle partit pour sauver la patrie
La douce Enfant à l'armée commanda.

Sainte Jeanne de France,
Notre espérance Repose en vous,
Sainte Jeanne de France,
Priez, priez pour nous!

Des fiers guerriers, Jeanne gagna les âmes
L'éclat divin de cet ange des cieux,
Son pur regard, ses paroles de flammes,
Surent courber les fronts audacieux

Sainte Jeanne de France,
Notre espérance Repose en vous,
Sainte Jeanne de France,
Priez, priez pour nous!

Jeanne c'est toi notre unique espérance;
Du haut des Cieux, daigne entendre nos voix;
Descends vers nous, Viens convertir la France,
Viens la sauver une seconde fois!

Sainte Jeanne de France,
Notre espérance Repose en vous,
Sainte Jeanne de France,
Priez, priez pour nous!
Song to St. Joan

Lord, Joan is Your splendid work,
A heart of fire, a warrior's soul:
You gave them to the timid virgin,
Whom You wished to crown with laurels.

Saint Joan of France,
Our hope Rests in you,
Saint Joan of France,
Pray, pray for us!

In her humble meadow Joan heard,
Voices from Heaven calling her into combat,
She left to save her country,
The sweet child commanded the army.

Saint Joan of France,
Our hope Rests in you,
Saint Joan of France,
Pray, pray for us!

She won over the souls of proud warriors,
The Divine luster of Heaven's messenger,
Her pure gaze, her fiery words,
Were able to make bold brows give way....

Saint Joan of France,
Our hope Rests in you,
Saint Joan of France,
Pray, pray for us!

Joan, you are our only hope.
From high in the Heavens, deign to hear our voices.
Come down to us, come convert France.
Come save her a second time.

Saint Joan of France,
Our hope Rests in you,
Saint Joan of France,
Pray, pray for us!

Cantate à l'Etendard

Sonnez fanfares triomphales,
Tonnez canons, battez tambours!
Et vous, cloches des cathédrales,
Ebranlez-vous comme au grand jour!
En ce moment la France toute entière
Est debout avec ses enfants
Pour saluer, comme nous, la bannière
De la Pucelle d'Orléans!

Etendard de la délivrance,
A la victoire il mena nos aïeux,
A leurs enfants il prêche l'Espérance,
Fils de ces preux, chantons comme eux,
Fils de ces preux, chantons comme eux,
Chantons comme eux,
Vive Jehanne, Vive la France!

Salut à la blanche bannière
Salut, salut aux noms bénis
Du Christ et de Sa Sainte Mère
Inscrit par Jehanne dans ses plis
Par eux, jadis, elle sauva la France
Aimons-les donc comme autrefois
Et de nouveau consacrons l'alliance
De notre épée avec la Croix!

Quels noms fameux tu nous rappelles,
Drapeau sacré, toujours vainqueur!
Patay, Beaugency, les Tourelles,
Et Reims où tu fus à l'honneur!
A ton aspect, que la France reprenne
Sa vieille foi et sa vieille ardeur,
En t'acclamant que ton peuple devienne,
Plus généreux, plus rédempteur!

Planant au-dessus de nos têtes,
Les grands français de tous les temps
Réclament leur part de nos fêtes
En s'unissant à leurs enfants!
Les anciens francs, les preux du Moyen-Age,
Et les braves des temps nouveaux
A Jehanne d'Arc rendent le même hommage,
Et lui présentent leurs drapeaux!
Song to the Standard

Sound triumphant brass bands,
Thunder cannons, beat drums!
And you, bells of the cathedrals,
Shake yourselves as in broad daylight!
At this moment the whole of France
Is standing with her children
To salute, like us, the banner
Of the Maid of Orleans!

Standard of deliverance,
To victory he led our ancestors,
To their children he preaches Hope,
Son of these brave men, let's sing like them,
Son of these brave men, let's sing like them,
Let's sing like them,
Long live Jehanne, Long live France!

Hail to the white banner
Hail, hail to the blessed names
Of Christ and His Blessed Mother
Inscribed by Joan in her folds
By them, long ago, she saved France
So let's love them as before
And once again consecrate the covenant
Of our sword with the cross!

What famous names you remind us of,
Sacred flag, always victorious!
Patay, Beaugency, Les Tourelles,
And Reims where you were in the spotlight!
At your appearance, may France resume
Her old faith and her old ardor,
By acclaiming you that your people become,
More generous, more redeeming!

Hovering above our heads,
The great Frenchmen of all times
Claim their share of our celebrations
By uniting with their children!
The old Franks, the braves of the Middle Ages,
And the brave of new times
To Joan of Arc pay the same homage,
And present their flags to her!

Many other songs have been written about Joan, and much literature has arisen about our Saint, too. The rush to memorialize her in words started early; even before Joan's death; in 1429, Christine de Pizan wrote an elegiac poem about her entitled "Le Ditié de Jehanne d'Arc" (you can read a translation here). Shakespeare includes her, albeit very disrespectfully and scandalously (to be expected in Elizabethan England, alas), in his "Henry VI, Part I", and George Bernard Shaw also wrote a play -- "Saint Joan" -- about her. Mark Twain wrote an account of her life -- "The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" (pdf) -- daring to write in the first person, as Joan. And then there are the paintings and sculpture. As to that last, in the Place des Pyramides, in Paris's 1st arrondissement, at the very heart of the city, is a great golden statue of Joan astride her horse.

I don't know of any food customs related to today's feast, alas. But since Joan was from Lorraine, a Quiche Lorraine sounds like a good choice.

Quiche Lorraine

One 9-inch deep-dish pie crust (you can "cheat" and get store-bought unbaked crust. Thaw before using.)
8 oz thick-cut bacon (about 6 slices), diced
1/2 cup chopped shallots, from 2 medium shallots
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg
4 oz Gruyère cheese, finely shredded (about 1 1/4 cups)

Heat your oven to 400oF. Put the crust in a deep 9" pie tin. Prick the crust all over with a fork, put the tin on top of a baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes until golden. If it puffs up while baking, prick it again (you can also try baking it with another pie tin sitting on top so it presses down on the dough). Keep the pie tin on the baking sheet.

Turn the oven down to 325oF.

In a frying pan, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove from pan and drain. Remove all but about a tablespoon of bacon grease from the pan, and then add the shallots, cooking over medium heat until they're transluscent but not brown. Then remove them from the pan as well and set aside.

In a bowl, beat the eggs, then add in the heavy cream, salt, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg.

Spread the shallots over the bottom of the crust. Top with half of the bacon, all of the Gruyère, and then the rest of the bacon. Pour the egg/cream mixture over top. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake at 325oF for about 45 to 50 minutes. Serve hot or cold, preferably with a green salad, roasted vegetables, crusty bread, and a nice Gewürztraminer. Follow up with fruit or with the classic chocolate mousse:

Mousse au Chocolat

6 eggs, at room temperature, separated
2/3 cup heavy cream, cold
9 TBSP powdered sugar
2 pinches of salt
8.8 oz good quality dark chocolate
0.6 oz butter
9 oz or so of raspberries

In a chilled large bowl, whip cream with powdered sugar until soft peaks form.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt til stiff peaks form.

Break the chocolate into small pieces in a medium bowl and melt add to the butter, which you have already melted in a double boiler at a low simmer. Stir occasionally 'til the chocolate is melted. Once the chocolate is almost melted (with small lumps left), mix with a large rubber spatula, pour into another bowl, and continue to stir while cooling. Add the room temperature egg yolks one by one to the melted chocolate while mixing.

Stir the whipped cream in the chocolate/egg yolks mixture.

Gently fold egg whites into the above (don't stir! Fold!).

Arrange half of the raspberries at the bottom of six serving glasses and divide the mousse between them. Cover glasses with plastic film and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight. Top with remaining raspberries to make it pretty.

For entertainment's sake
, there's this old time radio show about the execution of St. Joan. It's an episode of CBS's "You Are There" called "Joan of Arc is Burned at the Stake," and in it, St. Joan's story is presented as a news story. It originally aired in February of 1948:

Read more about St. Joan's life in the books about her in this site's Catholic Library.

Finally, on a radically different note, the horrible story of a medieval serial killer named Gilles de Rais plays a part in the history of St. Joan. It's an extremely graphic story (one not for children!), but I present it here for information's sake: The Notorious Gilles de Rais.


1 Though Joan is popularly thought of as a martyr, she was canonized and is remembered liturgically as a Virgin. She wasn't executed for her faith in Christ, at least not per se.

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