Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Biography Part 23

By Jules Michelet
The Maid of Orleans

The great testimony she thus bore is attested by the sworn and compelled witness of her death, by the Dominican who mounted the pile with her, whom she forced to descend, but who spoke to her from its foot, listened to her, and held out to her the crucifix.

There is yet another witness of this sainted death, a most grave witness, who must himself have been a saint. This witness, whose name history ought to preserve, was the Augustine monk already mentioned, brother Isambart de la Pierre. During the trial, he had hazarded his life by counselling the Pucelle; and yet, though so clearly pointed out to the hate of the English, he persisted in accompanying her in the cart, procured the parish crucifix for her, and comforted her in the midst of the raging multitude, both on the scaffold where she was interrogated, and at the stake.

Twenty years afterwards, the two venerable friars, simple monks, vowed to poverty, and having nothing to hope or fear in this world, bear wit ness to the scene we have just de scribed : " We heard her," they say, " in the midst of the flames invoke her saints, her archangel; several times she called on her Saviour. ... At the last, as her head sunk on her bosom, she shrieked; ' Jesus' "

" Ten thousand men wept. ..." A few of the English alone laughed, or endeavored to laugh. One of the most furious among them had sworn that he would throw a fagot on the pile. Just as he brought it, she breathed her last. He was taken ill. His comrades led him to a tavern to recruit his spirits by drink, but he was beyond recovery. "I saw," he exclaimed, in his frantic despair, "I saw a dove fly out of her mouth with her last sigh." Others had read in the flames the word "Jesus," which she so often repeated. The executioner re paired in the evening to brother Isam bart, full of consternation, and confesed himself; but felt persuaded that God would never pardon him. . . . One of the English king's secretaries said aloud, on returning from the dis mal scene, " We are lost ; we have burnt a saint"

Though these words fell from an enemy's mouth, they are not the less important, and will live, uncontradicted by the future. Yes, whether considered religiously or patriotically, Jeanne Dare was a saint. Where find a finer legend than this true history ? Still, let us beware of converting it into a legend; let us piously preserve its every trait, even such as are most akin to human na ture, and respect its terrible and touching reality, . .

Let the spirit of romance profane it by its touch, if it dare ; poetry will ever abstain. For what could it add ? . . . The idea which, throughout the middle age, it had pursued from legend to legend, was found at the last to be a living being - the dream was a reality. The Virgin, succorer in battle, invoked by knights, and looked for from above, was here below. . , . and in whom? Here is the marvel. In what was despised, in what was lowliest of all, in a child, in a simple country girl, one of the poor, of the people of Prance. . . . For there was a people, there was a Prance. This last impersonation of the past was also the first of the period that was commencing. In her there at once appeared the Virgin. . . . and, already, country.

Such is the poetry of this grand fact, such its philosophy, its lofty truth. But the historic reality is not the less certain ; it was but too posi tive, and too cruelly verified. . . . This living enigma, this mysterious creature, whom all concluded to be supernatural, this angel or demon, who, according to some, was to fly away some morning, was found to be a woman, a young girl ; was found to be without wings, and linked as we ourselves to a mortal body, was to suffer, to die - and how frightful a death 1 But it is precisely in this apparently degrading reality, in this sad trial of nature, that the ideal is dis coverable, and shines brightly. Her contemporaries recognized in the scene Christ among the Pharisees. . . . Still we must see in it something else the Passion of the Virgin, the martyrdom of purity.

There have been many martyrs ; history shows us numberless ones, more or less pure, more or less glo rious. Pride has had its martyrs ; so have hate, and the spirit of contro versy. No age has been without mar tyrs militant, who no doubt died with a good grace when they could no longer kill. ... Such fanatics are irrelevant to our subject. The sainted girl is not of them ; she had a sign of her own goodness, charity, sweet ness of soul. She had the sweetness of the an cient martyrs, but with a difference. The first Christians remained gentle and pure only by shunning action, by sparing themselves the struggles and the trials of the world. Jehanne was gentle in the roughest struggle, good amongst the bad, pacific in war itself; she bore into war (that triumph of the deviPs) the spirit of God.

She took up arms, when she knew " the pity for the kingdom of France." She could not bear to see "French blood flow." This tenderness of heart she showed towards all men. After a victory she would weep, and would attend to the wounded English.

Purity, sweetness, heroic goodness that this supreme beauty of the soul should have centred in a daughter of France, may suprise foreigners who choose to judge of our nation by the levity of its manners alone. We may tell them (and without partiality, as we speak of circumstances so long since past) that under this levity, and in the midst of its follies and its very vices, old France was not styled with out reason, the most Christian people. They were certainly the people of love and of grace ; and whether we understand this humanly or Ghris tianly, in either sense it will ever hold good.

The deliverer of France could be no other than a woman. France herself was woman ; having her nobility, but her amiable sweetness likewise, her prompt and charming pity; at the least, possessing the virtue of quickly excited sympathies. And though she might take pleasure in vain elegances and external refinements, she remained at bottom closer to nature. The Frenchman, even when vicious, pre served, beyond the man of every other nation, good sense and good ness of heart. . .

May new France never forget the saying of old France : " Great hearts alone understand how much glory there is in being good" To be and to keep so, amidst the injuries of man and the severity of Providence, is not the gift of a happy nature alone, but it is strength and heroism. . . . To preserve sweetness and benevolence in the midst of so many bitter disputes, to pass through a life's ex periences without suffering them to touch this internal treasure is di vine. They who persevere, and so go on to the end, are the true elect. And though they may even at times have stumbled in the difficult path of the world, amidst their falls, their weaknesses, and their infancies, they will not the less remain children of God.



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