The Sword Of Ste. Catherine de Fierbois

A Comprehensive Collection of Short Explanations

In the Middle Age, the church of Fierbois, dedicated to Sainte Catherine, patron of soldiers, was renowned for its miracles. On her way to Chinon, Jeanne arrived here in 1429 to meet the Dauphin. The church has always been a pilgrim centre on the way to Saint Jacques de Compostelle and was a very important place in the Middle Age.

Instead of the sword the king offered her, she begged that search might be made for an ancient sword buried, as she averred, behind the altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois. It was found in the very spot her voices indicated. The blade was so covered in rust it would have been impossible for her to describe it without having seen it before. The descendants of Jeanne's brother, Pierre, had in their possession three of her letters and a sword that she had worn. The letters were saved but Jeanne's sword was lost during the chaos of the revolutionary period.

She testified at her trial that she never used those arms personally, only displaying her famous banner.

Français 5054, fol. 60v, Jeanne d'Arc battant les prostituées

In this famous illustration Jeanne using the flat of the sword to beat a prostitute following the army, one of a host of such professionals driven out of the camp. She was not at all gentle on these occasions. The sword, broke it on the back of one of them. Jeanne clamed that it was not the the Sword of Fierbois. But rumours began between the soldiers, that Jeanne had broken a holly sword made in heaven, course no could repairer it again.

The king told her later on, that she should have used a stick instead, of this holly relic heaven had send her. Many started believing that she had lost her power from that on.

The prostitutes followed the French army hoping for work when the army stopped marching and made camp. This upset Jeanne greatly, who often attempted to chase the prostitutes away. Before the siege of Paris, she rode after one and smacked her with the flat of her sword.

The sword, which had been found in the Church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois and was considered magical and lucky, shattered. The destruction of the sword upset everyone, who considered it to be a bad omen, and negative feelings about the Paris campaign in general were beginning to increase.

Charles, who was especially superstitious, took the sword-breaking incident to mean that the attack on Paris was doomed.

After receiving her armor and horse Jeanne was offered a sword. She refused saying that God had already chosen a sword for her. She then gave instructions that were to be given to a certain church. They were to go behind the church to a certain spot and dig. There they found her sword.

"Jeanne's Voices had told her that there was an ancient sword hidden somewhere behind the altar of St. Catherine's at Fierbois, and she sent De Metz to get it. The priests knew of no such sword, but a search was made, and sure enough it was found in that place, buried a little way under the ground. It had no sheath and was very rusty, but the priests polished it up and sent it to Tours, whither we were now to come. They also had a sheath of crimson velvet made for it, and the people of Tours equipped it with another, made of cloth-of-gold.

But Jeanne meant to carry this sword always in battle; so she laid the showy sheaths away and got one made of leather. It was generally believed that his sword had belonged to Charlemagne, but that was only a matter of opinion.

I wanted to sharpen that old blade, but she said it was not necessary, as she should never kill anybody, and should carry it only as a symbol of authority." (Joan of Arc Chapter 10, book II)

Jeanne d'Arc - Joan of Arc
This ceremoni sword was used on sunday, 17 July, 1429, where Charles VII was solemnly crowned.

In the Journal du siège and Chronique de la Pucelle, Jean Chartier, writes about the sword used by Jeanne d'Arc and the circumstances by wich it was acquired: The King wanted to present her with a sword, so she asked for that of Sainte Catherine de Fierbois. "on lui demanda si elle l'avoit oncques veue, et elle dit que non"........

A black-smith was sent from Tours who found the sword amongst several other ex-voto that had been left in a trunk behind the altar. ( From1415 and the beginning of the battle of Azincourt, armed soldiers would come and offer all or least some of their weapons in thanks to Sainte Catherine who had protected them in battle ). It is amongs these weapons that Jeanne's sword was chosen.

According to the Duke of Alençon, Jeanne's sword was destroyed in Saint Denis, when she lanced it through the back of a prostitute, most probably after the failed attack on Paris. It seems that Jeanne was in the habit of stiking her sword across the backs of any prostitutes that she would come across; such incidents being reported in Auxerre by Jean Chartier and this page, Louis de Coutes for the stage of Chateau Thierry.

Charles VII showed himself to be most displeased upon hearing that the sword had been destroyed, as amongst Jeanne's companion, the sword was reputed as a somewhat magical weapon, and therefore its' destruction was seen as a bad omen. We have no clue as to what became of the broken pieces.

Jeanne tells of her visions. From: Saint Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

The last and perhaps most significant miracle attributed to Jeanne is her recovery of the Sword of Fierbois.
After receiving her armor and horse Jeanne was offered a sword. She refused saying that God had already chosen a sword for her. She then gave instructions that were to be given to a certain church. They were to go behind the church to a certain spot and dig. There they found her sword. Covered in rust the armorer was amazed as the flakes of rust fell off leaving the sword perfect. The subject was dropped now for a while, and Beaupere took up the matter of the miraculous sword of Fierbois to see if he could not find a chance there to fix the crime of sorcery upon Jeanne.

"How did you know that there was an ancient sword buried in the ground under the rear of the altar of the church of St. Catherine of Fierbois?" Jeanne had no concealments to make as to this:

"I knew the sword was there because my Voices told me so; and I sent to ask that it be given to me to carry in the wars. It seemed to me that it was not very deep in the ground. The clergy of the church caused it to be sought for and dug up; and they polished it, and the rust fell easily off from it."

"Were you wearing it when you were taken in battle at Compiègne?"
"No. But I wore it constantly until I left St. Denis after the attack upon Paris."

This sword, so mysteriously discovered and so long and so constantly victorious, was suspected of being under the protection of enchantment.
"Was that sword blest? What blessing had been invoked upon it?"
"None. I loved it because it was found in the church of St. Catherine, for I loved that church very dearly."

She loved it because it had been built in honor of one of her angels.
"Didn't you lay it upon the altar, to the end that it might be lucky?" (The altar of St. Denis.)

"Didn't you pray that it might be made lucky?"
"Truly it were no harm to wish that my harness might be fortunate."

"Then it was not that sword which you wore in the field of Compiègne? What sword did you wear there?"
"The sword of the Burgundian Franquet d'Arras, whom I took prisoner in the engagement at Lagny. I kept it because it was a good war-sword - good to lay on stout thumps and blows with."

She said that quite simply; and the contrast between her delicate little self and the grim soldier words which she dropped with such easy familiarity from her lips made many spectators smile.

"What is become of the other sword? Where is it now?"
"Is that in the procès verbal?"
Beaupere did not answer.

"Which do you love best, your banner or your sword?"
Her eye lighted gladly at the mention of her banner, and she cried out:
"I love my banner best - oh, forty times more than the sword! Sometimes I carried it myself when I charged the enemy, to avoid killing any one."
Then she added, naïvely, and with again that curious contrast between her girlish little personality and her subject, "I have never killed anyone."

Jeanne testified at her trial february 27, 1431

As described by Jeanne at her trial she sent a letter to the clergy at St. Catherine de Fierbois with instructions for locating a sword at their church.

"When I was at Tours or at Chinon I sent to seek a sword which was in the church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois, behind the alter, and it was found at once all covered with rust."


How did you know that this sword was there?
"This sword was in the earth, all rusty, and there were upon it five crosses, and I knew it by my voices.... I wrote to the prelates of the place that if they please I should have the sword and they sent it to me. It was not very deep under ground behind the alter, as it seems to me, but I do not know exactly whether it was before or behind the altar. After this sword was found, the prelates of the place had it rubbed, and at once the rust fell from it without difficulty. There was an arms merchant of tours who went to seek it, and the prelates of that place gave me a sheath, and those of Tours also, with them, had two sheathes made for me: one of red velvet and the other of cloth-of-gold, and I myself had another made of right strong leather. But when I was captured, it was not that sword which I had. I always wore that sword until I had withdrawn from Saint-Denis after the assault against Paris."

Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses, p. 61-62
Little is known about Jeanne's sword, other than what her own words tell us--that it had five crosses upon it and that the rust was easily removed. The sword is no where else described in either her Condemnation Trial or her Rehabilitation Trial. This has left many historians scratching their heads, for they don't know the length, weight, or height, nor the design of the hilt, pommel, or blade. The fact that her sword had a design, the five crosses, was not unusual during the early medieval period. Many blacksmiths added inlays as personal trademarks.

The story of how Jeanne found her sword is perhaps the most intriguing connection to her sword. According to her own words, her voices instructed her as to its whereabouts behind the altar at the church of Saint Catherine. Jeanne had great devotion to Saint Catherine so it's no surprise that the sword came from a church which was dedicated to her. The fact that it was found behind the alter, buried is not all together unusual. It was common practice in that day for soldiers to leave their swords or armor as an offering of thanksgiving after battle. Many legends abound as to who might have left this sword. One is that it belonged to Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne, who halted the Muslim invasion in Europe. There are two versions of this legend. One is that Charles Martel founded the church of Saint Catherine de Fierbois and that he secretly buried his sword for the next person whom God would choose to find it and save France. The other is that he left it there as an offering after his victory at Tours.

Jeanne mentions the two scabbards that were given to her to hold her precious sword. However, the ever-practical Maid had one constructed out of durable leather. This would make sense if she was to use it in battle.

The sword found at Saint Catherine of Fierbois was not her only sword. She had one that had been given her in Vaucouleurs, by Sir Robert de Baudricourt, and another that she had taken from a Burgundian soldier. When her judges questioned her about the whereabouts of the sword from Saint Catherine of Fierbois (because they certainly didn't want any relics floating around), she refused to provide an answer, saying it did not concern the case. The only information she would give is that it was lost and that her brothers had the rest of her goods. When pressed about her own offering of sword and armor at Saint Denis she answered that she had not offered the sword from Saint Catherine of Fierbois.

So, then, after all this conjecture about Jeanne's sword, many people wonder what she used her sword for if not to kill? Personal testimony as well as witness accounts say that she used a sword to chase prostitutes out of camp! She mentions to her judges that the Burgundian's weapon was, "excellent for giving hard clouts and buffets." Trial of Condemnation, February 27, 1431, Fourth Session. Some say this is how the famous sword of Catherine of Fierbois met its demise, breaking in half after swatting two camp trollops.
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