Somehow I used to think that the cult of Joan of Arc was limited to northern France and was of little interest to the southern half of the country. After all, she lived and died in the North, and during her lifetime some parts of the South didn’t even belong to France.
I hadn’t noticed that just about every city in southern France has a street, square, statue or monument named after Jeanne d’Arc (1412-1431).
Bordeaux, for its part, has an Avenue Jeanne d’Arc and — some distance away — this monument to her, riding a horse and holding a flag.
I have since learned — from a website page entitled De Jeanne d’Arc à Jeanne d’Oc — that there was recently a colloquium and now a book called Jeanne d’Arc entre la terre et le ciel du Midi (Joan of Arc between the earth and the sky of the South), asking if there is a mythology of Joan of Arc which is specific to the South of France. (“Jeanne d’Oc” was a name they made up for this occasion, meaning “Joan of the South”.)
They point out that some of the most famous and emblematic representations of Joan of Arc were made by artists from the South of France, such as Ingres and Bourdelle, both of whom were born in Montauban.
The inscription on the base of the statue reads: “Bordeaux to Joan of Arc, National Heroine”.
Recently I have been learning a bit more about Joan of Arc for two reasons, first because I finally got around to reading the play Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw, which is something I had been meaning to do for decades, and second because of the dramatic oratorio Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher (Joan of Arc at the Stake) by Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), which I saw several times in a staged production at the Frankfurt Opera in 2017.
Joan is a prime example of the thin line between heresy and sainthood. She had her own very personal religious experience, with voices that spoke directly to her and not through the mouth of a priest. In 1431 she was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake, but twenty-five years later an inquisitorial court pronounced her innocent and declared her a martyr. She was finally canonized as a saint in 1920, three-and-a-half years before the premiere of Bernard Shaw’s play about her.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.