Saint Joan of Arc, called the “the Maid of Orléans,” (in French: Jeanne d'Arc, born c.1412, executed 30th May 1431) is a national heroine of France and declared a saint of the Catholic Church. This page focuses on her Augustinian connections.
A peasant girl born in eastern France who claimed Divine guidance, Joan asserted that she had visions from God which instructed her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War (1337 - 1453). The uncrowned French king, Charles VII, sent her to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran French commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to the coronation of Charles VII at Reims, and settled the disputed succession to the throne. She was captured by the Burgundian army, sold to the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court that was under English political control, and burned at the stake in 1431 when she was only nineteen years old.
Two Augustinian priests and two Augustinian monasteries play an important role in the public life of Joan d'Arc (“the Maid of Orléans”). One of these priests was her spiritual adviser, and the other was one of her opponents. One of the monasteries saw her greatest heroism, the other was witness to her many pious prayers. The first of these priests was Jean Pasquerel O.S.A., who was a member of the Augustinian monastery of Bayeux but in 1428 at the time of his first meeting with Joan d'Arc was a professor in the theological academy of the Augustinian Order in Tours. He has remained relatively unknown to historians of the Augustinian Order because the Augustinian archives of France have not survived, although he played at least as great a spiritual role for Joan d’Arc as William Flete O.S.A. did for St Catherine of Siena.
Like much else in the life of Joan d'Arc, her meeting with Pasquerel seemed to have about it a touch of divine providence. He was travelling on pilgrimage in 1429 when by chance he met two soldiers, John of Metz and Bertrand of Poulengy. They remembered seeing this Augustinian priest on some previous occasion and eagerly told him in much detail of the calling of Joan to deliver France from the English, who had ruled parts of France for over a century. The two soldiers brought this Augustinian friar to Joan d’Arc’s mother, who it seems made him promise to see her daughter and give her all the spiritual help she needed. Pasquerel must either have been already known to her or else immediately made a deep impression on her since she placed such complete confidence in him at this very first meeting. At any rate, the two soldiers promised that they would do everything to bring the priest to Joan.
By way of Chinon they arrived in Tours where Joan of Arc was residing in the house of a private citizen, and suggested she meet this friar. In what was rare for a teenage girl of that time – or of any time - Joan by then had been given a leading military role on the French nationalist side of a war against the disputed English rule of what the English monarchs had held for a century as their territory in France. Joan replied that Jean Pasquerel was welcome because she had heard of him previously,Joan asked him to hear her Confession on the following day. This he did and sang a High Mass for her intentions. From this time on he seems to have been convinced of her divine mission and personal holiness, for according to his own statement he followed her everywhere and never left her until their separation after both of them were taken prisoner. He had become her chaplain, along with a Cistercian priest. Even her condemnation to death by burning on the stake could not shake Pasquerel’s conviction that she had been sent by God because she did nothing but good and was altogether virtuous. Nobody could be so assured of this than he who heard her Confession almost daily. Toward the end of her life she made him promise to stay with her always as her confessor. He could also observe Joan well outside of the confessional because she had appointed him her almoner, secretary and chaplain. He wrote some of her letters for her, or translated them into Latin, if necessary. There are at least two such letters in which the signature name of this Augustinian is included. The one was addressed to Falstaff, the leader of the English in Orléans, and the other to "the heretical Bohemians".
Through Pasquerel Joan announced to the army that the war would be lost only because of sin and that, therefore, all would have to go to Confession. There was then much work for Father John and other priests of the mendicant orders. Joan had a very high esteem for these priests and great confidence in their prayers. At Blois she commissioned Pasquerel to have a banner made with the image of the Crucified around which these priests would have to assemble at stated hours of the day to pray and sing. None of the soldiers was allowed to approach them, unless he had first gone to Confession. The saint herself often came to these devotions.
Jean Pasquerel carried this banner in the midst of the priests as Joan's army neared Orléans. Although the English were far superior both in men and weapons they did not attack, and Joan and her army succeeded in entering Orléans after a siege of only nine days. This surprising military outcome was considered a miracle by Pasquerel. The full confidence of Joan in Pasquerel is shown in the fact that he was the first to whom Joan confided the most important prophecies of her life. He was the first to hear from her lips that she would liberate Orléans in five days. On the day before she was wounded she said to him: "Rise very early to-morrow and do even more than you did to-day. Stay always near me, for to-morrow I have to do much, more than at any time in my life. And tomorrow blood will flow from my body above my breast." When she was hit by an arrow she allowed no superstitious cures but had the wound bandaged and then went to Confession to Pasquerel with many tears.
At the city of Blois, Pasquerel prepared for Joan a banner on which was painted the Crucifixion of Christ. This banner was carried by a procession of priests and monks in front of the army as it prepared for battle in Orléans. Pasquerel was present when Joan attained her goal, i.e., the crowning of the Dauphin in Reims. The French king, Charles VII, next allowed Joan to lead an army to try to retake Paris. This attempt ended in failure and Joan was forced to retreat, but continued to campaign elsewhere. However, in May 1430 Joan was taken prisoner near Compiegne by the Burgundians. It was customary for a captive's family to ransom a prisoner of war. Joan was in an unusual circumstance. Many historians condemn King Charles VII for failing to intervene. He neglected to ransom her freedom and she was eventually sold to the English, who brought her to Rouen and imprisoned her in the Pucelle’s Tower, also known nowadays as the Joan of Arc Tower.
Jean Pasquerel was with Joan when she was taken prisoner by the Burgundian army, and sold to their allies, the English. (This transaction was partly negotiated for the English by Bishop Pierre Cauchon, who soon was to be in charge of Joan's trial for heresy that the English financed.) Joan was treated in an offensive manner by the English while she was in prison. In the city of Rouen, which had been under English control since 1419, Joan was then brought before a Church diocesan court in the year 1430.
Joan had legitimately asked to be brought to trial elsewhere under a papal court, i.e., away from English influence on the process, but her request was ignored. By condemning Joan with such a broad range of charges, the court showed itself to be vindictive and fanatical in their condemnation of her; it was tantamount to a “witch hunt,” with some statements being falsified and documents favourable to Joan being omitted. The court was less interested in finding out the truth about the orthodoxy of her religious belief than in political matters in the interests of their political masters, the English. The English were ridding themselves of a successful military opponent by having the Church execute her for heresy.
Photos (at left): Picture 1: The tower in Rouen where Joan was imprisoned. Picture 2: Painting of Bishop Cauchon at Joan's trial for heresy. Picture 3: Statue of Jean d’Arc. Picture 4: Jean d’Arc used in a U.S. War Savings poster in the 1940s.
Judicial proceedings against Joan commenced on 9th January 1431 at Rouen, the seat of the English occupation government. The procedure was irregular on a number of points. To summarize some major problems: Under ecclesiastical law, Bishop Pierre Cauchon lacked jurisdiction over the case. He owed his appointment to his partisan support of the English government which financed the trial. Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly, commissioned to collect testimony against Joan, could find no adverse evidence. Without such evidence the court lacked grounds to initiate a trial. Opening a trial anyway, the court also violated ecclesiastical law in denying Joan’s right to a legal adviser. Upon the opening of the first public examination Joan complained that those present were all partisans against her and asked for "ecclesiastics of the French side" to be invited.
Several court functionaries later testified that significant portions of the court transcript were altered to Joan's disadvantage. Many clerics served under compulsion, including the inquisitor, Jean LeMaitre, and a few even received death threats from the English. Under Inquisitorial guidelines, Joan should have been confined to an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of female guards (i.e., nuns). Instead, the English kept her in a secular prison guarded by their own soldiers. Bishop Cauchon denied Joan's appeals to the Council of Basel and to the Pope, which action according to church law should have temporarily adjourned the proceedings.
In a heresy trial, the Church can accuse a person of being (1) an idolater: one who worships idols, (2) an apostate: someone who once was a Christian but now no longer believes in Christ. The Church can also accuse a person of being (3) a schismatic: someone who believes in Christ but moves out from under the authority of the pope, or (4) a heretic: someone who believes in Christ but not in all the doctrines of the Catholic Church. The court accused Joan of all four of the above charges. Thereby it showed itself to be illogical, because these charges are mutually exclusive. Joan was burnt at the stake on 30th May 1431, at the age of eighteen years. When Joan was captured, so too had been Joan's squire, Jean D' Aulon, her brother Peter D'Arc and Jean Pasquerel O.S.A. Whereas Joan was tried and executed, these others languished in a Burgundian prison for another six years until the Baron Gilles de Rais, (better known as Bluebeard) finally paid their ransom. In the year 1439 he was then sent by the Order to teach theology at the university in Angiers, France.
Photos (at right): Pictures 1 & 2: Statue of Jean d’Arc in Paris. Picture 3: A statue of Jean d'Arc in Place des Pyramides, Paris.
Pasquerel could not understand why so many priests had approved of her condemnation. Because he was still in prison himself, he did not see Joan on the pyre of execution, nor hear her last words: "Jesus, Jesus." The day of her death was a day of deepest grief to him. All the greater was his joy in the trial of her vindication twenty-four years later in 1455 when he vigorously supported her innocence of the ecclesiastical charges that had been brought against her. His testimony is one of the most important interventions in this process.
Twenty-four years after Joan's death, in June 1455, under the orders of Pope Calixtus, Cardinal William Estouteville, Archbishop of Rouen and Cardinal Protector of the Augustinian Order, led the commission that conducted the procès de réhabilitation (process of rehabilitating the reputation) of Joan of Arc. Because he was the former spiritual director of Joan of Arc, Jean Pasquerel was a central witness in this process. He proclaimed that she was a holy woman and a saint, and not a witch or a heretic. He said, "I believe firmly that she had been sent by God, and say this by reason of her good life and her many virtues." The dead heroine once again confronted her dead judges, to their shame and her enduring honour. Rouen, the place of her martyrdom, now became the place of her triumph.
Little else is known about Jean Pasquerel; the historical spotlight had shone on him only because he stood beside Joan d’Arc. But Debout, one of the outstanding biographers of Joan, does not hesitate to call him a holy religious. It seems that God must have given him extraordinary wisdom and virtue since he became the spiritual director and faithful companion of the most unusual saints in the history of the Church. Quite different was the attitude, however, of the Augustinian John Le Fevre. He had obtained his doctorate of theology in Paris and was a famous orator. Since his native city, Rouen, had been in the hands of the English for many years he was a staunch supporter of them, and his assessment of Joan was like that of the university of Paris, viz., "Joan is a hardened heretic and is to be delivered to the secular arm."
Yet he was not quite so unyielding as many of the judges at her trial, for many times he suggested leniency. When the malicious president of the court, Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais and an English partisan, asked Joan, "Are you in the state of grace?" Le Fevre objected, "This is a hard question, a thing like this one ought not to ask." Couchon became very angry with Le Fevre and retorted, "It would have been better if you kept your tongue quiet." Le Fevre refused to take any further part in subsequent sessions of the court. Unphased by the judge’s question, Joan – an uneducated peasant girl but with very high intelligence - confidently replied, "If I am not in the state of grace, may God give it to me. If I am, may He preserve me in it. I should be a most unhappy person if I did know that I am not. But I do not think that the voice would come to me if I were not. I wish everybody could hear the voice as loudly as I do." Despite there being no real evidence nor a properly obtained confession, Joan was found guilty of heresy.
Whilst she was still imprisoned Bishop Pierre Cauchon opened a second trial for relapsed heresy on 28th May 1431, so-called "double heresy" (i.e., heresy committed a second time) being a crime punishable by death. In due course the court handed down a sentence of death by burning at the stake. On 30th May 1431, at the Place du Vieux-Marché (Old Market Square) in Rouen, Joan was burned alive before a large crowd. The people of Rouen were freely calling Joan's death a 'martyrdom,' and were pointing 'with horror' at Bishop Cauchon and his assistants. Although executed for being a heretic, Joan was granted Holy Communion and, while tied to the stake, she asked for and was given a cross.
When after Joan’s death Rouen was won back from the English, Le Fevre became an auxiliary bishop there. How embarrassed he must have been when Cardinal William Estouteville appointed him as one of the presidents in the procès de réhabilitation (process of rehabilitation of Joan’s name and reputation). The process implicated the late Bishop Pierre Cauchon with heresy himself for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta. By then, however, Cauchon had been dead for ten years. In 1452, during this posthumous investigation into Joan’s execution, the Church declared that a religious play in her honor at Orléans would qualify as a pilgrimage and merit a church indulgence. Pope Callixtus III in 1456 examined the findings of the procès de réhabilitation, pronounced Joan innocent of what she had been accused twenty-five years earlier, and declared her a martyr.
The biographers of Joan note that Le Fevre was present at every session of the trial of rehabilitation, and showed increasing sympathy for the saint. Thus as a septuagenarian he to some extent repaired the wrong he had committed over twenty years earlier. He died in his native city in 1463 and was buried in the new Augustinian church. In the historical documents there is a third Augustinian, Friar Burget by name, who helped the cause of Joan by acting as a messenger. He carried letters to the king and other dignitaries who were in Sens, and brought back letters addressed to the bishops of Sens and Treves, for which service the city paid him the sum of ten franks. Besides Pasquerel and Burget there were presumably yet other Augustinians as chaplains in the army of Jean d'Arc, although their names are no longer remembered.
Details are known about the involvement of the Augustinian monastery of Orléans in the war of liberation. In the year of 1429 the city of Orléans lay only on the left bank of the Loire and was heavily fortified with a wall. There were five gates. The gate on the south aide could be reached only by passing over a bridge of nineteen pillars. There was a strong rampart on the sixth pillar, while the eighteenth was provided with two towers. Outside the city walls and on the right side of the bridge was the Augustinian monastery from which the fortifications were named "Bastilles des Augustins." In order to deprive the approaching English army of any cover and to provide an open field of fire for the artillery of the city, the city council ordered all buildings near these fortifications to be burned.
The strong walls of the monastery, however, did not burn down as quickly and as thoroughly as those of private houses. The English in their first onrush succeeded in reaching the city fortifications and in turning the Augustinian church into a strong fortress. Since here was the greatest danger for the city it was also the place of the bitterest battles and of the most heroic exploits of Joan, although she wept most bitter tears over the many dead. The church and its former Augustinian monastery building were rebuilt after the war, but little can be said about its history since the church and its archives were destroyed in 1940 during World War II.
The second Augustinian monastery which played some part in the life of Joan d'Arc did not see her in battle but in her wearisome wait for the decision of the king. This was in Tours, where Joan spent several years. The monastery was built in the thirteenth century. After its suppression in the French Revolution the church was so completely hidden by new buildings that it was rediscovered only in 1905. This Augustinian church had a chapel in honour of St Margaret to whom Joan of Arc had a special devotion. She used also to learn from Father Pasquerel the days on which the Augustinian community received holy communion. She would then use these opportunities to receive holy communion in the Augustinian church.
In English literature, William Shakespeare's play, Henry VI, part 1, was the ultimate insult to Joan's memory because the play portrays her as the devil's tool, a violent, calculating and scheming shrew. The powers in charge during the French Revolution cancelled the May 8th procession that had been held at Orleans continuously since two years after Joan's death. They also destroyed statues and crosses that were set up to honour Joan and they burned her relics, consisting of her hat that she gave to a companion, her standard and a sword that had belonged to her. For the next ten years Joan's memory was relegated to the shadows of French life and it was not until 1803 when Napoleon once more made it 'politically correct' to honour Joan by giving his permission for the May 8th ceremonies at Orleans to be resumed.
A parallel case of an Augustinian friar being chaplain to a canonised female case is that of Fr William Flete O.S.A. and St Catherine of Siena.
St Joan of Arc. A comprehensive biography from New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08409c.htm
Military battles. The siege of Orléans (1428-1429) and the Loire Valley Campaign (1429). http://xenophongroup.com/montjoie/orleans.htm AN4359