Joan of Arc
Jeanne d'Arc, 1412-1431, the well known patron saint of France, was outside her home one day, when the Archangel Michael appeared to her. She was about 13 yrs old at the time, and such visions continued for four or five years, guiding her on an extraordinary path. It had been prophesied that a young woman would lead the French in battle against the English, who held much of France at the time, and that her efforts would return the Dauphin to the French throne.

Her trial was one of the most well documented in history, hence we can study her own words and those of many of the people in her village. Her trial records are stunning reading! In her book Joan of Arc by Herself & Her Witnesses Regine Pernoud quotes from those records. As a reader I felt as though I was there in the room as Joan was being questioned. The quotes inspired me, and I used them in my cover notes on my album Joan of Arc. As an example, here are a few ~

"I was born in the town of Domremy, which makes one with Greux. My father was called Jacques, and my and my mother, Isabelle."

"And came this voice, about the hour of noon, in the summertime, in my father's garden...
and rarely do I hear it without a brightness... it is usually a great light... and after I had thrice heard this voice I knew it was the voice of an angel."

"The voices were sweet and beautiful, speaking in the French language... I see them
(the angels & saints), with my eyes as well as I see you... and when they withdrew from me I wept and should have liked them to take me with them..."

Joan adopted the title of 'Maid' (virgin), and, dressed as a man for safety reasons, she travels at night to Chinon to gain the favour of an audience with Charles VII. Having passed rigorous tests to see if she is genuine, she donned armour and led the French army into a series of victorious battles. She was only 17 years old. Miraculously, she raised the siege of Orleans. The French masses were fired with evidence of divine intervention, and Joan saw the first part of her dream realised when she attended Charles' sacring ceremony.

However, King Charles decisions from that point did not strengthen Joan's position. Many forces were plotting against her. The English attributed her victory to 'enchantment' and 'sorcery'. Men in power feared that Joan may have had too much power - that she was not submissive enough to Church and King.

She was imprisoned and the University of Paris urged for her condemnation - it is clear that a woman could not be allowed to interpret God's will. Joan was tortured in prison and sentenced to life imprisonment. She attempted to escape, and finally, against enormous pressure, she chose to hold to her truth; her belief in God, the angels and saints. Hence she was condemned to death, to be burnt at the stake as a heretic.

The executioner saw "at the moment of Joan's death, a white dove emerging from the pyre." He greatly feared that he was damned, for he had burnt a holy woman.

Her name was cleared in 1456, after the 'Trial of Rehabilitation', but it wasn't until 1909 that she was finally recognised as a saint. Her devotion, honesty and bravery are a torch that has burned across the centuries. Joan of Arc is one of the greatest spiritual women in history. May many more women draw inspiration and strength from this outstanding soul.

© Radha Sahar, with thanks to Regine Pernoud for the quotes
Check out the books and films dedicated to Joan of Arc, plus the stunning CD Joan of Arc available from this site.

Portrait of a Beguine Woman

Mary was a typical beguine woman. In her time (12th C), women had little authority or independence. Said to be "dangerously carnal and lustful creatures, far removed from the male realms of spirit and intellect,"1 they had to be submissive. Married women were uaually beaten.

Mary, like her Beguine sisters, found a way to live outside the only acceptable roles of wife or nun. Her order emerged around 1170 in Liège (Belgium), and though it is a religious order, Mary was not bound by her vows. Nor was she closed to the possibility of marriage.

The Beguine women enjoyed a communal lifestyle with a minimum of bureaucracy. Mary's community, like the others, started spontaneously, not as an adjunct to any male group. It had no founder, no Rule, or constitution. As a "holy woman," Mary chose to be poor, though the Beguines did not see poverty as an end in itself. 'Hard work is the path to humility' was her slogan, as she strived to serve the needy.

Like most Beguines, Mary was quite pragmatic. She regarded mystic experiences such as stigmata, or being tormented by demons, as feigned holiness or mental ill-health - though she admired the great mystics of her faith, Mechthild of Magdeburg (1212?-1282), and Beatrice of Nazareth (1200?-1268). They teach that the human soul can be directly united to God, and that love is the way to divine union... Mary would have found this inspiring as she went about her daily work. She and her Beguine sisters, dressed plainly in gray, gave the townspeople devotional literature in the common language since they could not understand Latin.

Sadly, the Beguine way of life faded as the women were often co-opted and persecuted - probably because they lacked good internal support structures and they did not establish a strong identity.

I wonder what Mary would think if she knew that a thousand years on, women would draw inspiration from the remarkable way the Beguine women rose to create a life of dignity, purpose, and freedom.

1. Fiona Bowie - "Beguine Spirituality".
Other references: Elisabeth T Knuth, essay.