could not prove witchcraft. Forced to sign a confession, Joan at first received a life-sentence for non-capital heresy. Shortly afterward, the authorities condemned her to death on a technicality: that she continued to wear men’s clothes, despite being warned that it was a sin. Evidence suggests that she was set up—someone may have taken her women’s clothes and left her with nothing else to wear. Joan was burned on May 30, 1431. The detailed trial transcripts reveal a remarkably human saint, and the story invites modern interpretation. Today, scientists routinely propose medical and psychiatric explanations for Joan’s voices. The diagnoses range from inner ear diseases and brain tumors to schizophrenia and psychopathy. One popular theory, proposed in a 1991 paper published in the journal Epilepsia , says that Joan had “ecstatic epileptic auras.” But whether or not her voices were mere hallucinations, writes biographer Donald Spoto, author of Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint (2007), she lived at a time “when faith was a fact of life.” Mental illness (though not its cause) was recognized in 15th-century Europe, and not all claims to divinity were accepted as such. Charles VII’s father, for example, had believed that he was made of glass, and his subjects recognized that he was delusional. But Joan of Arc, with her charisma and confidence, convinced much of France that her voices were actually messages from God. Despite modern efforts to debunk her, Joan of Arc retains her status as a religious and patriotic heroine, especially in France. Since the 19th century, when nationalism became a major theme in Europe,
books, plays and operas about Joan have abounded. Her popularity continued into the 20th century and beyond: she has been the subject of more than two dozen films, as well as popular songs, video games and TV shows. Joan’s name and face have been used to promote everything from faith and feminism to goat cheese and canned beans. (“Joan of Arc was an amazing woman—she lived and died for her beliefs,” states the Web site for Joan of Arc brand beans. “We think Joan would have been proud of the beans that bear her name.”) During the two World Wars, Joan appeared in American, British and French propaganda.
- Fall '17
- Mrs. Osborne
- Joan, Henry VI of England, Nicolas Sarkozy, Charles VI of France, Charles VII of France