Jeanne d'Arc's religious visions
"My Voices tells me that I must go against the English,"
Table of Contents
The record of the Saint of Lorraine presented so many cases of clairvoyance and of prophecy that they gave her by common consent the right to claim that she had the mysterious power of divination. Sometimes she seemed to read the future, as for example when she said to the soldier at Chinon who cursed her at the moment of her entrance into the castle:
“Ah, you make light of God, and yet you are so near your death.”
That same evening this soldier was drowned by accident. So was it also in the case of the Englishman, Glasdale, at the attack on the tower of the bridge before Orleans. She summoned him to appear before the King of Heaven, adding “I have great pity for your soul.” At the same instant, Glasdale fell with all his armour into the Loire, where he was drowned.
Later, at Jargeau, she saw the danger of the Duke d’Alencon, over whose safety she had promised to watch.
“Gentle Duke,” she cried, “retire from where you stand, for if not that cannon down yonder will be the death of you.”
This foresight proved to be correct, for the Lord of Lude who took the place abandoned by the Duke was killed immediately afterwards.
At other times, and frequently, she was warned by her Voices. At Vaucouleurs, without ever having seen him, she went straight up to the Lord of Baudricourt:
“I recognized him,” she explained, “because my Voice told me. It said to me, ‘There he is.’”
After this opening Jeanne predicted to him the deliverance of Orleans, the consecration of the King at Reims, and finally told him of the defeat of the French on the Day of Harengs at the very moment when it was taking place. At Chinon, when brought into the presence of the King, Jeanne had no difficulty in picking him out from the three hundred courtiers amidst whom he was concealed.
“When I entered into the chamber of the King,” said she, “I recognized him among the others on account of my Voices, which revealed him to me.”
In a private conversation she told him the very words of a prayer which he had addressed to God when he was alone in his Oratory. Her Voices told her that the sword of Charles Martel was buried in the Church of Saint Catharine de Fierbois, and caused her to send and get it. Again it was her Voices which awoke her at Orleans when, overcome with fatigue, she had thrown herself upon a bed and knew nothing of the attack upon the castle of Saint Loup.
“My Voices tells me that I must go against the English,” she suddenly cried. “You did not tell me that the blood of France is being poured.”
Jeanne knew, because she had been warned by her guides, that she would be wounded by an arrow at the attack of Tourelles, 7th May, 1429. A letter from the representative of Brabant, which is preserved in the archives of Brussels1, related this prophecy and the manner in which it would be fulfilled. On the eve of the battle Jeanne said again:
“To-morrow my blood will be shed.”
On this same day she predicted against all probability that the triumphant army would enter into Orleans over the bridge which at that time was broken down. That is what did occur.
When the town was delivered Jeanne insisted that the King should not delay his departure for Reims, repeating, “I will only be with you for one year. It is needful, then that you use me to the full.”
What foresight as to her own short career!
Jeanne d’Arc’s religious visions have remained an ongoing topic of interest. The consensus among scholars is that her faith was sincere. She identified Saint Margaret, Saint Catherine, and Saint Michael as the source of her revelations, although there is some ambiguity as to which of several identically named saints she intended. Some Catholics regard her visions as divine inspiration.
Analysis of her visions is problematic since the main source of information on this topic is the condemnation trial transcript in which she defied customary courtroom procedure about a witness’ oath and specifically refused to answer every question about her visions. She complained that a standard witness oath would conflict with an oath she had previously sworn to maintain confidentiality about meetings with her king. It remains unknown to what extent the surviving record may represent the fabrications of corrupt court officials or her own possible fabrications to protect state secrets. Some historians sidestep speculation about the visions by asserting that her belief in her calling is more relevant than questions about the visions’ ultimate origin.
A number of more recent scholars attempted to explain her visions in psychiatric or neurological terms. Potential diagnoses have included epilepsy, migraine, tuberculosis, and schizophrenia. None of the putative diagnoses have gained consensus support, and many scholars have debunked them by arguing that she didn’t display any of the objective symptoms that can accompany the mental illnesses which have been suggested, such as schizophrenia.
Dr. Philip Mackowiak dismissed the possibility of schizophrenia and several other disorders2 in a chapter on Jeanne d’Arc in his book “Post-Mortem” in 2007.
Dr. John Hughes rejected the idea that Jeanne d’Arc suffered from epilepsy in an article in the academic journal ‘Epilepsy & Behavior’. Two experts who analysed the hypothesis of temporal lobe tuberculoma in the medical journal Neuropsychobiology expressed their misgivings about this claim in the following statement: It is difficult to draw final conclusions, but it would seem unlikely that widespread tuberculosis, a serious disease, was present in this “patient” whose life-style and activities would surely have been impossible had such a serious disease been present.
In response to another such theory alleging that her visions were caused by bovine tuberculosis as a result of drinking unpasteurized milk, historian Régine Pernoud wrote that if drinking unpasteurized milk could produce such potential benefits for the nation, then the French government should stop mandating the pasteurization of milk. The fact that Jeanne d’Arc gained favor in the court of King Charles VII has been suggested as evidence against mental illness hypotheses.
The argument suggests that Charles VII would have been able to recognize madness because his own father, Charles VI, suffered from it. Charles VI was popularly known as “Charles the Mad”, and much of the political and military decline that France had suffered during his reign could be attributed to the power vacuum that his episodes of insanity had produced. The previous king had believed he was made of glass, a delusion no courtier had mistaken for a religious awakening. Fears that King Charles VII would manifest the same insanity may have factored into the attempt to disinherit him at Troyes. This stigma was so persistent that contemporaries of the next generation would attribute to inherited madness the breakdown that England’s King Henry VI was to suffer in 1453: Henry VI was nephew to Charles VII and grandson to Charles VI.
Upon Jeanne’s arrival at Chinon the royal counselor Jacques Gélu cautioned, One should not lightly alter any policy because of conversation with a girl, a peasant … so susceptible to illusions; one should not make oneself ridiculous in the sight of foreign nations. Miniature from Vigiles du roi Charles VII. The citizens of Troyes hand over city keys to the Dauphin and Jeanne. The court of Charles VII was shrewd and sceptical on the subject of mental health.
She remained astute to the end of her life and the rehabilitation trial testimony frequently marvels at her astuteness: Often they [the judges] turned from one question to another, changing about, but, notwithstanding this, she answered prudently, and evinced a wonderful memory. Her subtle replies under interrogation even forced the court to stop holding public sessions.
Some psychiatrists have also urged that a distinction should be made between different types of experiences. Ralph Hoffman, professor of psychology at Yale University, argues that visionary and creative states, including “hearing voices”, are not necessarily signs of mental illness.
In their distress the peaceful peasants called upon Joanna of Joinville, then the representative of the family of Bourlemont, to which Domremy belonged. The lady sent for help to her kinsman, Anthony, count of Vaudemont, one of the most powerful lords in Lorraine. Vaudemont’s men retook the cattle without much difficulty; they beat off Orly, when he came riding after them, and drove the herd in safety back to Domremy. There was great joy in the village at its return.
Thus Domremy learned the meaning of war. The English were not directly responsible for the raid, as Orly seems to have been in the service of neither party, while the count of Vaudemont was distinctly on the Anglo-Burgundian side. Nevertheless, as has been said, the common people were coming to feel that peace and quiet were possible only after the English should be driven from France.
Soon after this raid, at about noon in the summertime, Jeanne was in her father’s garden, a small plot of ground between the house and the church. At her left hand, toward the church, she saw a great light and had a vision of the archangel Michael, surrounded by other angels. The little girl, only about thirteen years old, was much frightened, and did not know what was come to her; soon the vision faded away. In the days and weeks which followed, however, it returned again and again. Her fear passed away as she became familiar with the sight, and fear was succeeded by great comfort and peace, when at length she believed that the archangel had verily appeared to her. He bade her be a good girl, and promised that God would help her; he said that Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret would soon visit her, commissioned by God to advise and to guide her, and he ordered her to obey their words. His prophecy came to pass, and she beheld the two saints, their gracious faces richly crowned. They told her their names, and, vaguely at first, they bade her go to the help of the king of France. At once she took their voices as the guide of her life, asking no reward of them, except the salvation of her soul.
These were the subjective impressions on the mind of Jeanne. Their objective cause and explanation have been widely sought, but if we try to connect the past life and the surroundings of the little girl with the saints whom she saw, we shall find the evidence of such connection very scanty. Six years earlier, Charles VII., when dauphin, had in some sort taken St. Michael for his patron, and a picture of the archangel for his armorial device. The great fortified Norman monastery of Mount St. Michael at the Peril of the Sea had been blockaded by the English, and at about the time of Jeanne’s vision its defenders had won a victory which raised the blockade. It is possible, of course, that a peasant’s child, thirteen years old, should attach importance to the heraldic device of her king, and should be deeply moved by a victory of some local note won more than three hundred miles from her home, but it is not likely. Catherine was the name of Jeanne’s sister, and there was a statue of St. Margaret in the church of Domremy. In this way Jeanne may have come to regard these saints with especial reverence, but the cause of her veneration, if it existed before her vision, is more probably buried with the lost history of her early childhood and of the local traditions and worship of the village.
The occasion and circumstances of her vision were known at the time only to the little girl. The day of the vision was probably a fast day, though this is not certain. Such days are far too common in the Catholic Church, however, to produce any disturbing effect. The life of a child, living with other children in an obscure hamlet, leaves no record from which its history can be written. Just after Jeanne became famous, a story went that one day she had been running races in the meadows of the Meuse, always beating her companions, and seeming to fly rather than to tread the ground. As she stopped, breathless, a boy told her that her mother needed her help; but when Jeanne reached the cottage, Isabel answered that she had not been sent for. The girl turned about to rejoin her companions, then suddenly saw a light and heard a voice. This account of the first vision, however, is contained in a letter which is full of pure legend, and cannot be trusted.
Jeanne herself seldom spoke of her visions; like many of the deepest religious experiences, they were much too sacred for common conversation. For several years she said not a word to any one. Afterwards, when it became absolutely necessary to say something in order to establish her divine mission, she spoke of what she had seen, but always with reluctance and reserve; with still greater reluctance she spoke to her judges at her trial, and yet from her own story all our real knowledge of her visions has come. That she both saw and heard the saints we know, but precisely what she saw, or how she heard them speak, she never told any one. Two things only are certain: first, that she was sincere, both then and afterwards, and, second, that no trick was played upon her by others. It appears, moreover, by very strong evidence, that in all other respects she was quite healthy, both in body and in mind. Further than this, history cannot go, and the choice between insanity and inspiration must be made by another science.
Jeanne’s heavenly visitors caused no great change in her outward life. She busied herself in spinning, in sewing, and in helping her mother about the house; she worked in the fields and gathered the harvest with other girls of her age, and now and then she took her turn in watching the cattle at pasture. She was a good girl, nursed the sick, and occasionally gave her bed to some wayfarer who passed the night in her father’s house. She went to confession and to mass, visited the oratories and chapels on the hillsides, liked to hear the church-bells ring out over the valley of the Meuse, and chid the sexton when he was lazy or forgetful. Sometimes the other children of the village, as children will, laughed at her for her piety. She was reserved, and having a great secret which she told to no one, she lived by herself more than most girls of her age; but she had her friends, whom she loved and who loved her. She was strong and brave, very earnest, but having much of the shrewd humor of the peasants of Lorraine. After she had become famous, the villagers strained their memories, and roused their imaginations, to tell marvelous stories of her girlhood, but, as she grew up among them, they thought of her only as a good girl, like other good girls whom they knew.
For three years the saints visited Jeanne, and their “voices,” as she called them, told her more and more distinctly that she must save France, though as yet they gave her no definite commands. Meantime, the fortune of Charles VII. and of the Armagnacs, especially in the neighborhood of Domremy, went from bad to worse. In 1427, and in 1428, the Anglo-Burgundians carried on vigorous campaigns, and before midsummer, 1428, in the whole east of France, only the town of Vaucouleurs held for Charles VII. Several Burgundian leaders advanced to besiege it; its captain, Robert of Baudricourt, prepared to defend himself, but he could not protect the open country. Domremy was only thirteen miles south of Vaucouleurs, and the peasants left their homes while there was time to escape. Moving in a body, they drove their cattle seven miles south to Neufchâteau, a walled town belonging to the duke of Lorraine, who was an ally of the English. In spite of the duke’s politics, the men of Neufchâteau very likely sympathized with Baudricourt; at any rate, they received with hospitality the outcasts of Domremy. The family of Arc was lodged for a fortnight in an inn kept by an honest woman named La Rousse, whom Jeanne helped with the housework, at other times watching the cattle as they fed in their new pastures.
The siege of Vaucouleurs did not last long; Baudricourt was wary and shifty as well as resolute and brave. In some way or other he made peace with the Burgunthan captain, and this without an immediate surrender. Perhaps there was a bribe given; some of the Burgundian partisans were not above selling the interest of their English employers for private gain. Perhaps the duke of Burgundy recalled his followers; more than once Philip the Good was seized with a fit of jealousy lest the English should grow too strong, and Baudricourt may have sought his protection. More likely, the captain of Vaucouleurs agreed to surrender the town unless relief came to him by a day fixed. In the fifteenth century such agreements were common, and they provided that, until the day arrived, the garrison should be left in possession and the besiegers withdrawn. At any rate, the Anglo-Burgundian force withdrew, and Baudricourt kept Vaucouleurs for Charles VII.
As soon as the danger was over, the peasants returned to Domremy, and found that the village had been burned. Their cattle were safe, and some of their household goods had been carried to Neufchâteau; their stone cottages were easily roofed again, but signs of the fire remained everywhere, and their church was so far destroyed that mass could be said in it no longer. Its black ruins stood next the garden of Jeanne’s father, on that side of the garden where the vision had first appeared to her. She now understood more fully the meaning of her voices when they told her of the miseries of France.
At this time Jeanne was in her seventeenth year, a wellgrown girl, strong and healthy, dark-haired, with a pleasant face and a sweet voice. She might well think of marrying, and a young man sought her hand. Neither then nor at any time was Jeanne an ascetic; she kept the fasts of the church, as part of her Christian duty, but she practiced no extraordinary self-mortification. God had called her to do a work, impossible of accomplishment if she married, and, therefore, from the first she vowed to remain a virgin so long as He should please. When her errand was done, her vow would expire, and she, if she were living, would be left a peasant girl of Domremy, like her friends about her.
She refused her suitor without hesitation. He was persistent, and seems to have had the support of her parents; pretending a betrothal, he cited her before the ecclesiastical court of Toul. To Toul she went, seventeen miles away, her voices telling her that she should prevail. Before the judge she swore to tell the truth, and she told it so plainly that her suitor’s case was dismissed.
After the burning of Domremy and the lawsuit at Toul, the commands given Jeanne by her voices became more definite. In the autumn of 1428 the eyes of all Frenchmen were turned to Orleans, against which the English had just encamped. If Orleans fell, France was lost. Already Jeanne had been told that she was to save France; now the voices told her that she must save Orleans. This was not all. Charles VII., though her ruler by divine right, was to her only the Dauphin, the heir to the throne, not her consecrated king. Greatly as she revered him, she would not use the name given him by law and by custom; until his coronation she always called him the Dauphin. This coronation and consecration could be had only at Rheims, and Rheims was in English hands, many miles from the nearest possession of the Armagnacs. As soon as the siege of Orleans was raised, therefore, she must lead the Dauphin to Rheims and see him made a king. What she should do after she had accomplished this, her voices did not direct precisely, but they spoke to her somewhat vaguely of driving the English from France.
These were the commands laid upon this girl by her heavenly visitors. Jeanne herself nowise coveted the honor of saving France; unless it were done at God’s bidding, she would rather be torn in pieces by wild horses than leave Domremy. More precise and more pressing, however, became the divine command: she must go to Robert of Baudricourt, and ask him for an escort to the Dauphin; in vain she answered that she was a poor girl who could neither ride nor lead an army. Two or three times a week the voices bade her go to Vaucouleurs.
She trusted her secret to no one, not even to the priest,–silent not only from natural reserve, but also because she feared hindrance in her work. To a girl living in a small village, however, absolute concealment of her feelings was almost impossible. Once or twice when the Armagnacs in the village became discouraged, or when some stray Burgundian sympathizer began to boast, Jeanne was tempted to hint darkly that help would come to France. By reason, perhaps, of some such hint, or of her stern refusal to marry, her father became suspicious, and dreamed of her departure. With natural feeling, the rude peasant told his household that he would rather drown his daughter than let her go off with the soldiers. As winter came on, the siege of Orleans was pushed more vigorously, and more urgent became the commands of Jeanne’s voices; for three years they had constantly guided her, and she could not disobey them.
Wikipedia. Régine Pernoud. Francis C. Lowell. Leon Denis.