Fun Facts From Church History: The Anniversary of Joan of Arc’s Execution
Today marks the anniversary of Joan’s execution for heresy (and crossdressing) -
Joan was imprisoned for nearly five months, repeatedly questioned about her views, and finally charged on 70 counts of heresy. Authorities were troubled that she claimed for her pronouncements the authority of divine revelation, prophesied the future, endorsed her letters with the names of Jesus and Mary (thereby identifying herself with a novel and suspect cult called the Name of Jesus), professed to be assured of salvation, and wore men’s clothing. She was finally convicted of being a schismatic (she said she felt accountable first to God and her saints rather than the church). When her sentence was read—execution by the secular authorities—Joan quailed and declared she would do all that the church required of her. Her sentence was changed to life imprisonment.
Three days later, however, she was found wearing men’s clothes again, and when asked about it, she said the voices of Catherine and Margaret had censured her for her “treason.” She was handed over to secular authorities.
At 9 a.m. on May 30, 1431, 19-year-old Joan walked toward the market square. She knelt and prayed for her enemies, then mounted the prepared pyre. As the flames leapt upward, Joan asked for a cross to be held before her. Gazing upon it, her final word was “Jesus.”
It would be 25 years before a church commission overturned the charges against her and declared her innocent. In 1920 Joan—remembered for her heroism and devotion far more than her military and political conquests—was canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.*
She. Was. Nuts. She was as batty as a nutter and were she alive today none of us would think otherwise. What I have never understood, frankly, is why the Church changed its mind about her and even went on to Canonize her. That’s as crazy as she was.
*131 Christians everyone should know. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.