Jeanne d’Arc (commonly known as Joan of Arc, c. 1412-1431) was the daughter of a peasant farmer named Jacques d’Arc and his wife, Isabelle, who lived in the village of Domrémy. Their home town was situated on the frontline of the wars between the Dauphin, Charles (later King Charles VII of France, r. 1422/1429-1461), and King Henry VI of England, who was allied to the Burgundians. Despite being raised in this tense and war-torn time, Jeanne found hope and confidence in the Church and the scripture it preached. Her religious zeal, however, skyrocketed in intensity when she turned thirteen years of age. It was at that young age that Jeanne d’Arc began hearing and seeing what she described as heavenly voices and the visages of spirits and angels. Following the urgings of these voices and semi-obscured saintly heads, teenage Jeanne d’Arc would embark on a wild and momentous journey, ultimately becoming a champion for Charles VII in war and politics.
Although Jeanne d’Arc claimed to have been contacted by many different angels and saints, her most frequent advisors were said to have been the spirits of St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch. Besides advising Jeanne on her daily decisions and actions, the saintly visions also encouraged the young mystic to obtain certain items. For one, when Jeanne d’Arc commissioned a custom-designed banner to be made for her to carry into battle, she claimed that the flag’s layout had been explained to her by her advisory saints. Similarly, Jeanne’s voices led her to uncover a special sword.
Jeanne’s interesting episode with the sword occurred in 1429, not long after she met the Dauphin, Charles. While Jeanne was traveling near the city of Tours, she was said to have been tipped off by her talkative spirit-companions about the existence of a sword that was buried somewhere behind the altar of the nearby Church of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois. After receiving this revelation, Jeanne delegated the task of retrieving the blade to an aid, who promptly set off to Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois to complete the holy scavenger hunt. The intel provided by the disembodied voices proved true, and a sword was indeed recovered. On February 27, 1431, after Jeanne d’Arc had been captured by her English and Burgundian enemies, she told her questioners about this story. The transcript of the interview read as follows:
“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 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” (The Trial of Jeanne d’Arc, Fourth Public Session).
Many rumors swirled around France about the fate of this blade. Some claimed that the sword eventually broke, yet Jeanne d’Arc denied this tale when speaking to her interrogators. Instead, she merely stated that the sword was in her possession until she mysteriously decided to hide it somewhere in the vicinity of Lagny in the final months of 1429. In its stead, she began wielding a looted Burgundian blade which she assessed to be a better weapon in combat. Nevertheless, she continued to be quite fond of the holy sword she left behind. As Jeanne d’Arc told her interrogators, “She loved the sword, she said, since it had been found in the church of St. Catherine, whom she loved” (The Trial of Jeanne d’Arc, Fourth Public Session). The whereabouts of this blade are uncertain, as Jeanne d’Arc was not captured with it, and she reportedly did not leave it to her brothers.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Trial of Jeanne d’Arc, compiled by Pierre Champion and W. P. Barret, with further translation from Coley Taylor and Ruth H. Kerr. Gotham House, Inc. 1932.