I was amazed when I first learned the famed Joan of Arc is a saint. And now, learning she’s also one of the patronesses of the Columbiettes, I dug in for more info.
It’s the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, and Joan is peasant girl living in occupied France. At this time, she experiences a divine vision—Michael the Archangel, with a number of saints (including St. Catharine, patron of my very own parish), instructs her to go defend her country. She seeks an audience with the king, who I don’t imagine is pleased with the idea of sending a young girl to war. But it’s said she reveals information to him that “only a messenger of God” could know. We don’t know what that was, but it convinces him to send her to the Siege of Orléans.
This battle ended up being a turning point in the seemingly endless war. Joan of Arc helped turn it around in favor of the French, which boosted country morale. Then she kept going, achieving victory after victory in battle.
But these victories aren’t the end of her story. During her final battle, she was thrown off her horse and left outside the town’s gates, thus captured by traitorous French. The occupying English, none too pleased with her power and strength, put her on trial. Joan was charged and found guilty of numerous charges, including witchcraft, heresy, and cross-dressing. As a result, she renounced her men’s attire and claimed she hadn’t heard those divine voice. But nothing silences the Divine—within days she was back in pants, again guided by the saints. Very obviously guilty then, she was burned at the stake for her crimes.
In the years and decades following her death, the public didn’t see her in the same way the English had. She became a hero, a mythical figure of French victory. She’d often had to hide her femininity in battle, disguising herself as a boy and wearing men’s armor (there was undoubtedly no ladies’ alternative). She was an illiterate, uneducated peasant who answered her divine calling, becoming perhaps France’s most famous and admirable solider.
It wasn’t long after her death that the Church called for a retrial, seeking to clear her name of heretical charges. Not only was Joan cleared, she was also declared a martyr and later canonized. She has become not only a patroness of the Columbiettes but also patron saint of France, soldiers, and women in the military.