A Visit in March of 2001
For as many years as I have been interested in Joan of Arc's life, I have been interested in visiting her birthplace.
In the past I have visited Chinon, and the castle where she met with the Dauphin whom she would soon lead to his coronation. At that castle, I learned something about the nature of life that is still with me, that regardless of the state of my belief, I still have a spiritual life. Unrelated to Joan, of course, just one of those "Aha!" moments in life.
I have visited the site of her great military triumph at Orleans. And felt the town's reverence for her and her miraculous triumph over the English there still, somewhere within.
I saw the cathedral at St. Denis where she deposited her armor like a great knight of history. Didn't do anything for me.
I saw where she was imprisoned and finally burned at Rouen, and the great modern cathedral that now celebrates her life. I was bummed out there, almost as if feeling the confusion and pain of those final moments.
From that visit, years ago (before my digital camera days, so no pictures), I developed a longing, a burning within with a very low flame, to experience Joan's birthplace and where she spent her childhood. The opportunity came while in Paris on business in March of 2001.
My readings on her life and visits to the above enumerated places led me to write a story about her, posted elsewhere on my websites (click here to read the story). I illustrated that story from cards and brochures I had acquired at those sites, for a paper, family-only version of the story. In respect of copyright laws, I did not put pictures into the website version of the story.
I also was fascinated by Joan's matter-of-fact accounts of her revelations. For some time I was negatively impressed with that fact, having a special love in my heart for the swooning, ecstatic mystics of the High Middle Ages, whom I celebrate in a story about a special women's' movement during that time (click here to go to that story elsewhere on my websites). I thought there was something strange about the matter-of-fact accounts Joan gave, until I came to appreciate the fact she was hiding anything she considered sacred from her prosecutors. Reading between the lines and catching a few hints of the emotional in her recountings were in that sense similar to the reading I needed to do to come to understand the similarly matter-of-fact experiences recorded by Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.
I ended up writing a comparison of the revelatory modus operandi of these two, Joan and Joseph, in another place on my websites (click here to read that comparison). It offends both Mormons and Catholics, of course, to have their prophet compared with that other religion's prophet as if both could have some claim on legitimacy. And it offends many of other Christian persuasions to think I might think either or both has some claim to legitimacy.
Finally, to Domremy-la-Pucelle!
When visiting Domremy, I felt love and peace radiating from the ground, plants, river and buildings. But especially from a trickling fountain, a spring that had been running for centuries before and after Joan's singular life.
Of course I fully realize that one's experience of a place is governed by how one already feels inside, and what expectations and attitude one brings along. But that is either beside the point or is the point.
I think I agree with Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) who said of his biography of Joan of Arc that it was the most important book he had written. He was fascinated by this well-documented life, and considered it the one of the very, very few undeniable miracle in history. It is this shared fascination (mine and Sam's) that colors what comes next.
I drove from Paris. Went east for hours and hours on the tollway to Nancy, south to Toul, through Vaucouleurs, and finally into Domremy-la-Pucelle. In the rain. Every one of the over 400 kilometers in the rain.
Why did I go the long way (about 100 km longer)? Because having worked at Argonne national laboratories in Illinois, I had always wanted to see the Argonne Forest in France, the source of its name. And I finally did, at about 140 km/hour in the rain, on a tollway! Its low hills and largely pine tree, with some deciduous tree and brush type of vegetation reminded me of a lower-elevation version of the drive on the freeway into the Blue Mountains southeast of Pendleton, in Oregon.
Exactly 8 km from Domremy-la-Pucelle the clouds broke and the rain stopped. I visited for a few hours, took a copious number of photos, and went back to Vaucouleurs after dark (so no pictures of this place where Joan was armed and given an escort to go to Chinon). There I took a walk through the ruins of the old city, and as i walked it began to rain! What a surprise.
I took a shorter, more direct, but slower way back to Paris, slept along the road thrice at rest areas, and flew home the next day.
So, for the few afternoon and evening hours while the rain was stopped, this is what I saw as I approached Domremy:
A countryside with friendly villages, gentle hills, young rivers, and green valleys with new grasses and cereals in fields:
Right after the rain stopped,
the sun broke through at a low angle and gave some beautiful accents to the
new grass of late-winter and the exiting storm clouds,
the field to the right of this view also showed a new sparkle on the winter wheat,
but the clouds returned to block the sun, and the country lane, even though it was drying, was a tad darker again the rest of the way into town,
I thought this was finally Domremy, but it was its adjoining village, Greux, the place where Joan went often to visit its shrine to Saint Margaret. Domremy and Greux were the same parish, so when a grateful king granted the now dead Joan her wish, expressed while alive and victorious of course, and she could have had anything at all in the king's power, she requested her parish (both towns) to be exempted from taxes. That exemption lasted until the middle of the twentieth century!!!
Just a couple of kilometers later, I was in Domremy: where the village church is the dominant structure,
as it has been since the 13th century, well before Joan, who was born early in the 15th century (1412):
Of course over the years it has been expanded several times, so it is not exactly the same place where Joan was baptized and worshiped. We will visit the village church, Joan's birth-/childhood- home, and a large church built nearby the village to commemorate her life, in the next few pages.
Go to see Domremy village setting and church
Go to see Joan's birth and childhood home
Go to see church dedicated to Joan