A sorceress or a saint? Spiritual forces were active in her life, but from what source? The French called her a godsend; the English burned her as a witch.

Joan was raised in a poor farming family in Champagne during the Hundred Years’ War when England was battling for possession of France. When Joan was 13, she had the first of many transcendental experiences, hearing voices accompanied by searing light. The saints, she determined, were commissioning her to save France. She set out to see the Dauphin (Prince). He attempted to disguise himself, but Joan wasn’t fooled. “The King of Heaven sends word by me,” she told him, “that you shall be anointed and crowned in the city of Reims. You are the heir to France, true son of the king.”

The young man listened, for he doubted his legitimacy. His father was insane and his mother slept with many men. The Dauphin gave Joan an army just as France was losing the war. She rallied her forces and led them to a remarkable victory, liberating the city of Orleans. Soon she accompanied the Dauphin to Reims where he was enthroned King Charles VII.

Joan’s voices warned her she hadn’t long to live, and she returned to battle only to be captured by the English. She stood trial for witchcraft on February 21, 1431, before a handpicked English church court. Her visions were pronounced “false and diabolical” and she was declared “heretical and schismatic.” On May 30, 1431 she was led to the Place du Vieux-Marche and burned at the stake. Her body was consumed by the flames; all but her heart, which terrified English guards seized from the ashes and threw into the river Seine. But her death inspired the French to recapture Paris and to drive the English from their country.

Prodded by Charles, Pope Callixtus III declared Joan innocent of witchcraft in 1456. She became a patron saint of France.

Saul took one look at the Philistine army and started shaking with fear. Then Saul told his officers, “Find me a woman who can talk to the spirits of the dead. … ” His servants told him, “There’s a woman at Endor who can talk to spirits of the dead.” That night, Saul put on different clothing so nobody would recognize him. Then he and two of his men went to the woman. … (1 Samuel 28:5,7,8)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 21.

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