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Patron saint of girl power: Joan of Arc

Long before Buffy slew a vampire or Xena battled bad guys, a teenager showed the world that girls can do anything – with God’s help. Her story has been told hundreds of times in books, plays, and movies, and she continues to be a popular heroine nearly 600 years after her death.

Joan of Arc was born Jan. 6, 1412, the youngest of five children in a French peasant family. She lived in the village of Domremy, near the province of Lorraine. When she was 13, Joan began hearing voices which told her they were messengers from God. At first, the messages were simple: be good, go to Church often, and God would help her. But when Joan was 17, the voices – which now identified themselves as St. Catherine, St. Margaret and St. Michael the Archangel    – told Joan to go to the king of France and help him regain his throne.

Now, the French political scene during the 15th century was pretty complicated. The situation Joan was being asked to fix involved helping the Dauphin, Charles, take back his kingdom from the English king who was taking over French territory with the help of the Duke of Burgundy, a French noble who was a rival of the Dauphin.

Joan didn’t understand why she, a peasant girl with no knowledge of military tactics, should be the one to help the king, but she was obedient to her voices. She traveled to the Dauphin’s court and proclaimed to him, “I am called ‘Joan the Maid.’ Give me soldiers and I will raise the siege of Orleans.” After she was examined by a Church council who decided that Joan really was sent by God, Charles had armor made for her and gave her 3,000 soldiers. With guidance from her voices, Joan led the battle that raised the siege of Orleans in May 1429.

From there, Joan and her army fought and won several more battles against the English and the Burgundians, enabling Charles to enter the cathedral in the city of Reims and be anointed Charles VII, King of France, in July 1429.

Joan continued to stay with the king and offer him counsel based on her voices. Charles didn’t listen to her, though. She left the court and led one last battle against the Burgundians at Compeigne, and was captured May 23, 1430. The Burgundians turned her over to the English. Charles VII did nothing to try and save her.

After a year in prison, Joan was found guilty of heresy and witchcraft and sentenced to die. Until the end, she continued to state that God’s saints had commanded her to do everything she had done. On May 30, 1431, she was burned alive at the stake, gazing at a crucifix held before her eyes. She was only 19 years old. The results of her trial were overturned several years later, but Joan of Arc was not named a saint until 1920. She is the patron of soldiers and of France. Her feast day is May 30.