100 years ago: France and Blessed Joan

22 April 2009

April 23rd, 1909.

ON SUNDAY LAST the second stage in the lengthy process of Jeanne d’Arc’s canonisation was reached, when her name was added to the Church’s great bederoll of the Blessed. The very day that the Maid suffered her martyrdom, the judgment of the present century was anticipated by the Englishman who exclaimed: “We are lost; we have burned a saint.” As an article in the Rouen Diocesan Bulletin Réli­gieux puts it, her beatification adds nothing to the merits of Jeanne d’Arc, it merely declares them. And those merits we Englishmen are even the more ready to acknow­ledge for the shame we justly feel on account of the part we took in bringing her to the stake, and for the long-cherished belief in the truth of the charges laid against her, a belief that, to our sorrow, was accepted by tradition as true by Shakespere. It is safe to say of him that, if he had known the facts as our generation knows them, La Pucelle would have been treated with respect instead of contumely, and might have figured as the greatest of his heroines. If anything were needed to strengthen the Entente Cordiale between French and English­men, our common reverence for the Blessed Jeanne d’Arc would well serve the purpose.

But there is another side of the picture. Magnificent as was the ceremony in the Eternal City, in France the occasion was passed by as of little account. Even in Rouen, where one might have expected to hear of great doings, beyond the singing of the Te Deum after High Mass in the churches there was nothing to celebrate the occasion. And the citizens, according to the evidence of a correspondent, were supremely indifferent to the great event of the day. A few picture post­cards were on sale, and one shabby wreath of immortelles hung on the statue erected on the scene of her martyrdom. That was all. Unhappy France!

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