Nothing of Joan of Arc remains in Rouen today – no tomb, no reliquary, not a scrap of clothing or even a contemporary likeness. Only her shaky signature “Jehanne” on the document this 19 year old illiterate peasant girl was forced to sign under threat of immediate execution denying that she had been sent by God to liberate France – a denial she almost immediately withdrew. “Everything I said” (in that document) “I said for fear of the fire,” she told her judges. They burned her anyway then ordered that her charred body be re-burned and her ashes scattered in the Seine so that no vestige of her remained to inspire contemporary and future generations. In this her enemies failed miserably. Joan’s spirit is everywhere in Rouen today and has become a symbol of courage, integrity and commitment to God and cause in the face of unimaginable odds way beyond the shores of her beloved France.
In the lovely contemporary Church dedicated to Joan stands one of the most moving statues of her at the stake – on one side the flames, on the other what appears to be angel wings carrying her to heaven. Twenty years after her execution Joan was totally exonerated by the Church of the crimes of which she was accused – heresy, witchcraft, idolatry and the list goes on. In 1920, she was declared a saint by the Catholic Church.
Ancient capital of Normandy. I was awoken this morning at 4 am by the sound of screeching seagulls. What are they doing here, nearly 60 miles from the coast, and at this hour? Then I thought of the Vikings stealing up the River Seine in their longships 1200 years ago, raiding, raping and pillaging – and no doubt screeching too. Eventually tiring of this activity, these Norsemen settled down in places like Rouen around the first millennium and became the Normans. After about an hour the seagulls fell silent too and the sounds of dawn were taken up by cooing doves! And then sometime later the seagulls came back and other birds joined in the cacophony. It seemed to me a fitting choral commentary on Rouen’s turbulent history in the midst of what has sometimes been called “the cockpit of Europe.”
More romantically, Rouen has been called “the city of a hundred spires” (Victor Hugo) and indeed there are an impressive number of churches in the ancient heart of the city – 3 within paces of our hotel: the Cathedral, the equally impressive church of Saint Maclou and Monastery of Saint Ouen, all stunning examples of flamboyant Gothic architecture.
Continue reading Rouen. . .
May 30th. Joan of Arc’s saint’s day – that was yesterday and I’m sorry Joan, I forgot. To be fair it was absolutely lashing with rain in Paris and if it had been this wet in Rouen 585 years ago those bastards who sent you to the stake (unfortunately the English) would never have got that fire going. But here she is, exonerated from the charges of witchcraft (just because she beat the English) and heresy (because she claimed to have heard voices from God – and also beat the English) standing tall holding her banner emblazoned with the Cross of Lorraine in no less a place than Notre Dame de Paris. A woman of true courage and integrity born in a time when women were supposed to have neither. She was only 19.