On this day in 1431, Jehanne d’Arc, or Joan of Arc, was burned at the stake for insubordination and heterodoxy. After succumbing to the flames, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive. They then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. Afterwards, they cast her remains into the Seine River.
A peasant girl born in what is now eastern France, who claimed divine guidance, Joan of Arc led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War, which paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII. She was captured by the Burgundians, transferred to the English in exchange for money, put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon,” and burned at the stake as a heretic when she was only 19 years old.
Twenty-five years after the execution, an Inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III examined the trial records. The court’s verdict exonerated her, and she was declared her a martyr. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and was recognized as a Christian saint by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920. Saint Joan of Arc is a national heroine of France. Her feast day is also today, May 30.
To recognize the events of this day in history, I rode to historic Meridian Hill Park in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of northwest D.C. (MAP), to see the statue entitled “Joan of Arc” by Paul Dubois. The bronze equestrian statue is located on the upper level of the park above the fountains, overlooking the city with a view all the way downtown to The Washington Monument. The statue is the only equestrian statue of a woman in D.C., and depicts her riding with a sword in her right hand. The sword she originally held was stolen in 1978, and not replaced until just recently.
The statue was a gift from Le Lyceum Société des Femmes de France (the “Ladies of France in Exile in New York”) to the women of the United States in 1922, two years after she was cannonized as a saint. DuBois’ original work on which this statue is based is located in Reims, France, in front of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.
As I was there in the park I couldn’t help but wonder what Joan of Arc would have thought of her status as a popular figure in cultural history, and the existence of this statue memorializing her located in a park in the capital of a country that wouldn’t be founded for more than three centuries after her death.