Joan of Arc: A Spiritual Biography (Lives & Legacies)

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9780824523503: Joan of Arc: A Spiritual Biography (Lives & Legacies)
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Written in a straight-forward, concise, and at times humorous manner, Nash-Marshall's Joan of Arc acquaints the reader with a historical character who became a legend during her lifetime legend. Joan is presented to us as a brave young girl who received a mission and who courageously used all of her faculties and gifts to accomplish it. Nash Marshall's approach is refreshingly honest. The narrative is centered on Joan, her mission, her work to fulfill it, her betrayal. The author gives us the facts and allows us readers to draw our own conclusions. Lovers of history will find the author's thesis on the connection between the resurgence of France, the betrayal of Joan, and the fall of Byzantium very interesting.

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About the Author:

Siobhan Nash-Marshall has doctorates in Philosophy from Fordham University and Universita de Milano. She is currently an assistant professor at Fordham and New York University. Internationally acclaimed in the areas of metaphysics and epistemology Nash-Marshall engages the enigmatic figure of Joan and her contemporaries in the pursuit of the spiritual meaning of nationhood, and of personal quests.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

May 30, 1431:

The ordeal was finally coming to an end. After a year of imprisonment, a four-month trial, an abjuration and a counter-abjuration, Joan of Arc was to be burnt at the stake. The Vieux March, the old market place, at Rouen was swarming with people. It was the second time in less than a week that a crowd had gathered to see her, and everyone there knew that there could be no third: a relapsed "heretic" could know no end other than death.

Escorted by what eyewitnesses claim were some 800 soldiers armed with axes and swords, the death cart bearing Joan rolled into the square where there was an enormous scaffold with a massive plaster stake bearing the sign: "Joan called the Virgin, liar, pernicious, seducer of the people, diviner, superstitious, blasphemer of God, defamer of the faith of Jesus Christ, braggart, idolatrous, cruel, dissolute, invoker of devils, apostate, schismatic, and heretic." Wood had already been piled around the stake.

Three other wooden platforms loomed above the square. Waiting for her on the first one, which, it seems, was lavishly decorated with tapestries, were her accusers: the members of the ecclesiastical court which was about to excommunicate her. The bailiff of Rouen and his entourage - the secular authorities, who were called upon to sentence Joan to death and carry out the execution - were on the second platform. It was adjacent to the first. Nicholas Midi of the University of Paris, who was one of the court assessors, stood on the third platform. It was somewhat removed from the first two platforms and askew with respect to them.

What ensued was the slow and meticulous dance of public death.

Joan was made to dismount from the cart, climb up the steps of the third platform, and join Midi. When she had taken her proper place, the once Rector of the Parisian University plunged into a sermon on the iniquities and infectious nature of heresy. "When one member suffers," he began, "All suffer with it."

Ten thousand pairs of eyes were glued to his platform, caught, one imagines, in the unfolding of the ritual rather than in the content of the sermon per se. One pair of eyes paid careful attention to his words. They were those of Pierre Cauchon, the bishop of Beauvais and Chief Inquisitor at Joan's trial, who sat on the ecclesiastical platform. He was waiting for his cue. Cauchon was patient that day. He had to be. Midi was a long-winded academic, who was determined to put up a particularly powerful performance for the occasion. He spoke for a full hour.

But Cauchon could afford to be patient on that day. He had won his war. And as most winners would, he probably enjoyed the fact that his victory celebration was long. Cauchon was a vain man. As the "distinguished doctor" finally drew his sermon to a close, he slowly rose. It was nine o'clock, and his turn had come.

All eyes shifted to the Inquisitor, who in turn looked over at Joan and read her sentence: "like a dog that returns to its vomit" Joan had relapsed, she had returned to her heretical ways. He therefore excommunicated her - "cut [her] off like a leprous limb from the Church" - and handed her over to the secular authorities, who would deal with her as they saw fit. He "hoped they would be merciful."

Cauchon did not really mean it. The phrase was customary: it was just one of the many steps in the dance. Everyone there knew how secular authorities dealt with excommunicated heretics: they sentenced them to death at the stake.

On the platform opposite Cauchon's, Midi then turned to Joan and repeated the conclusion of Cauchon's sentence. "Go in peace," he told her, "The Church can no longer protect you and delivers you up to the secular arm." This was the cue for the men waiting on the last platform: the secular authorities. The bailiff of Rouen stood up and called upon two sergeants to seize Joan, accompany her down the steps, and over to him.

Joan was dragged through the jeering crowd over to the bailiff's platform and stood in front of the bailiff for some time awaiting her sentence. But the bailiff had somehow forgotten his lines. He delivered no official death sentence. After some discussion, he finally raised his hand, called out his orders - "Take her away! Take her away!" - and had her hastily, too hastily, escorted on to the scaffold, and up to the executioner.

At that point the ecclesiastical authorities rose and began to depart from the scene: the matter was officially out of their hands.

Once Joan had climbed the stairs of the scaffold, the executioner removed the white sorceress's bonnet, which it is said she was made to wear up to that time - one can never be too sure with 'witches' - and replaced it with a tall paper cap, which read: "heretic, relapsed, apostate, idolatress." He then hoisted her up to the massive plaster stake, chained her to it, and lit the wood.

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