Joan of Arc died 586 years ago today, burned at the stake after a politically motivated trial for heresy.
The keep of Rouen castle is a remnant of the fortress where Joan was imprisoned during her trial. Far to the south, perching precariously on a volcanic plug near Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne, is the Chapelle Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe. For thousands of years it has been a place of pilgrimage and three years before her daughter’s death, according to legend, Joan of Arc’s mother visited it.
The Chapel of St. Michael was built on the orders of Bishop Godescalc in 962. It was a simple shrine with a square sanctuary and small recesses on each side. The chapel attracted many pilgrims, since Le Puy was the starting point for one of the main paths to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
In the 12th century, the chapel was enlarged by adding a short nave west of the original sanctuary, an elliptical ambulatory, two side chapels, a carved portal, and a bell tower. The 10th century frescoes were repainted in the original style and later covered over.
In 1275 the bell tower fell down and was not reconstructed until the 19th century when removal of plaster in the chapel revealed the 10th and 12th century frescoes. A century later, in 1955, archaeologists discovered a treasure trove of sacred objects in the altar, which are now on display behind an iron grating in the wall.
Joan of Arc’s mother was Isabelle Romée. When she married Jacques d’Arc, the couple moved to Domrémy where they owned a large farm. After their daughter’s exploits against the English in 1429, Isabelle is said to have gone to Chapelle Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe to pray for her daughter’s deliverance since it was the Archangel Michael who had first spoken to Joan.
In 1440 after her husband’s death, Isabelle moved to Orléans and received a pension from the city. She petitioned Pope Nicholas V to reopen the case that had convicted Joan of heresy, and then, in her seventies, addressed the opening session of the appeals trial at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The court overturned Joan’s conviction on 7 July 1456. Isabelle died two years later.