Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Biography Part 22

By Jules Michelet
The Maid of Orleans

The term of her sad journey was the old market-place, the fish-market. Three scafiblds had been raised: on one, was the episcopal and royal chair, the throne of the Cardinal of England, surrounded by the stalls of his prelates; on another, were to figure the principal personages of the mournful drama, the preacher, the judges, and the bailli, and, lastly, the condemned one ; apart, was a large scaffolding of plaster, groaning under a weight of wood - nothing had been grudged the stake, which struck terror by its height alone. This was not only to add to the solemnity of the execution, but was done with the intent that from the height to which it was reared, the executioner might not get at it save at the base, and that to light it only, so that he would be unable to cut short the torments and relieve the suflFerer, as he did with others, sparing them the flames. On this occasion, the impor tant point was that justice should not be defrauded of her due, or a dead body be committed to the flames; they desired that she should be really burnt alive, and that, placed on the summit of this mountain of wood, and com manding the circle of lances and of swords, she might be seen from every part of the market-place. There was reason to suppose that being slowly, tediously burnt before the eyes of a curious crowd, she might at last be surprised into some weakness, that something might escape her which could be set down as a disavowal, at the least some confused words which might be interpreted at pleasure, per haps, low prayers, humiliating cries for mercy, such as proceed from a wo man in despair. ...

A chronicler, friendly to the Eng lish, brings a heavy charge against them at this moment. According to him, they wanted her gown to be burnt first, so that she might remain naked, " in order to remove all the doubts of the people ; " that the fag ots should then be removed so that all might draw nigh to see her, " and all the secrets which can or should be in a woman: " and that after this immod est, ferocious exhibition, " the execu tioners should replace the great fire on her poor carrion. . . ."

The frightful ceremony began with a sermon. Master Nicolas Midy, one of the lights of the university of Pa ris, preached upon the edifying text : "When one limb of the Church is sicky the whole Church is sick." This poor Church could only be cured by cutting ofif a liznbu He wound up with the formula : ^ Jeanne, go in peace, the church can no longer defend thee." The ecclesiastical judge, the bishop of Beauvais, then benignly exhorted her to take care of her soul and to recall all her misdeeds, in order that she might awaken to true repentance. The assessors had ruled that it was the law to read over her abjuration to her; the l»shop did nothing of the sort. He feared her denials, her dis* claimers. But the poor girl had no thought of so chicaning away life: her mind was fixed on far other sub jects. Even before she was exhorted to repentance, she bad knelt down and invoked God, the Virgin, St. Michael and St. Catherine, pardoning all and, asking pardon, saying to the bystand ers, " Pray for me I "... In partico^ lar, she besought the priests to say each a mass for her soul. . . . And all this, so devoutly, humbly, and touch ingly, that sympathy becoming conta gious, no one could any longer con tain himself; the bishop of Beauvais melted into tears, the bishop of Bou logne sobbed, and the very English cried and wept as well, Winchester with the rest.

Might it be in this moment of uni versal tenderness, of tears, of conta gious weakness, that the unhappy girl, softened, and relapsing into the mere woman, confessed that she saw clearly she had erred, and that, apparently^ she had been deceived when promised deliverance. This is a point on which we cannot implicitly rely on the inter ested testimony of the English. Nevertheless, it would betray scant knowl edge of human nature to doubt, with her hopes so frustrated, her having wavered in her faith. . . . Whether she confessed to this effect in words is uncertain; but I will confidently affirm that she owned it in thought.

Meanwhile the judges, for a moment put out of countenance, had recovered their usual bearing, and the bishop of Beauvais, drying his eyes, began to read the act of condemnation. He reminded the guilty one of all her crimes, of her schism, idolatry, invoca tion of demons, how she had been ad mitted to repentance, and how, " Se duced by the prince of lies, she had fallen, grief I like the dog which re turns to his vomit. . . . Therefore, we pronounce you to be a rotten limb, and, as such, to be lopped off from the Church. We deliver you over to the secular power^ praying it at the same time to relax its sentence, and to spare yen death, and the mutilation of your members."

Deserted thus by the Churchy she put her whole tmst in God. She asked for the cross. An Englishman handed her a cross which he made out of a stick ; she took it rudely fash ioned as it was, with no less devotion, kissed it, and placed it under her garments, next to her skin. . . . But what she desired was the crucifix be longing to the Church, to have it before her eyes till she breathed her last. The good huasxtr, Massieu, and brother Isambart, interfered with such effect, that it was brought her from St. Sauveur's. While she was embracing this crucifix, and brother Isambart was encouraging her, the English began to think all this exceedingly tedious ; it was now noon, at least ; the soldiers grumbled, and the captains called out " What's this, priest ; do you mean us to dine here ? " . - . Then, losing pa tience, and without waiting for the order from the bailli, who alone had authority to dismiss her to death, they sent two constables to take her out of the hands of the priests. She was seized at the foot of the tribunal by the men-at-arms, who dragged her to the executioner with the words, " Do thy office. . . ." The fury of the soldiery filled all present with horror ; and many there, even of the judges, fled the spot that they might see no more.

When she found herself brought down to the market-place, surrounded by English, laying rude hands on her, nature asserted her rights, and the flesh was troubled. Again she cried out, ''0 Rouen, thou art then to be mj last abode I . . ." She said no more, and, in this hour of fear and trouble, did nai sin mth her lipa. . .

She accused neither her king, nor her holy ones. But when she set foot on the top of the pile, on viewing this great city, this motionless and silent crowd, she oauld not refrain from ex claiming, '' Ah ! Bouen, Bouen, much do I fear you will suffer from my death ! " She who had saved the peo* pie, and whom that people deserted, gave voice to no other sentiment when dying (admirable s^veetnesa of soul I) than that of compassion for it.

She was made fast under the infa mous placard, mitred with a mitre on which was read—"Heretic, relapser, apostate, idolater. . . .^' And then the executioner set fire to the pile. . . . She saw this from above and uttered a cry. . . . Then, as the brother who was exhorting her paid no attention to the fire, forgetting her self in her fear for him, she insisted on his descending.

The proof that np to this period she had made no express recantation is, that the unhappy Cauchon was obliged (no doubt by the high Satanic will which presided over the whole) to proceed to the foot of the pile, obliged to face his victim to endeavor to ex tract some admission from her. All that he obtained was a few words, enough to rack his soul. She said to him mildly, what she had already said : "Bishop, I die through you. . . . If you had put me into the church prisons, this would not have hap pened.'' No doubt hopes had been entertained that on finding herself abandoned by her king, she would at last accuse and defame him. To the last, she defended him: "Whether I have done well or ill, my king is fault less; it was not he who counselled me."

Meanwhile, the flames rose. . . When they first seized her, the un happy girl shrieked for holy water - this must have been the cry of fear. . . . But soon recovering, she called only on God, on her angels and her saints. She bore witness to them : " Yes, my voices were from God, my voices have not deceived me." The fact that all her doubts vanished at this trying moment, must be taken as a proof that she accepted death as the promised deliver dfnce; that she no longer understood her salvation in the Judaic and material sense, as until now she had done, that at length she saw clearly ; and that rising above all shadows, her gifts of illumination and of sanctity were at the final hour made perfect unto her.

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