Joan of Arc

Readers of the blog will have noticed an increasing number of allusions to Joan of Arc. When I came to France I knew next to nothing about her nor was I planning to increase my knowledge. My plan was mainly to visit medieval churches, but one thing I began to notice in these old churches is that Joan is often featured there.

Even though she never came through Amiens there is a remarkably life-like statue of her in the cathedral here. I didn’t understand who it was initially nor is there any explanatory sign. The statue is sitting off in a corner next to a column that bears commemorative plaques to the combatants of various wars. Only later when I learned that she is considered a patron saint of soldiers did this placement begin to make sense.

Statue of Joan of Arc in Amiens cathedral

During the trip to Rouen with my brother we saw some informational posters about her in the cathedral there. One of them listed what has become her most famous quote, made in response to a question during the trial of condemnation, as to whether she knew if she was in the grace of God:

Si je n’y suis, Dieu m’y mettre, et si j’y suis Dieu m’y garde.

Which means “If I am not, may God put me there, and if I am, may he so keep me.”

This struck me as a rather poetic reply, which I was not expecting from a young girl in response to such a straightforward question. As I have subsequently learned it was in fact not so straightforward a question as we might think, since church doctrine at the time held that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace, but to answer “no” could also have been used against her. It was one of many such attempts to entrap her, all of which she adroitly evaded to the “stupefaction” of her learned interrogators, before which she defended herself alone and without counsel for months on end.

Joan of Arc triumphant, Sacré-Cœur, Paris

Our curiosity aroused, and as people do nowadays, my brother and I both stuck our noses in our phones on the train ride back to Amiens. I thought to look for books (there are hundreds), but one of the first suggested for mere English speakers such as myself was written by Mark Twain. Wait, what? Mark Twain, noted Catholic critic, penned an effusive hagiography about a French teenager and Catholic saint? As it turns out, yes. According to him he spent 12 years in researching it, including travels to France. It was his final book, and he called it his best, and had it published anonymously so as not to prejudice the reaction by those expecting his usual satire.

I read the Mark Twain book and I enjoyed it, but it seemed a bit too fanciful in parts. Still interested to know more I have continued my research, and found that Mark Twain’s account was more accurate and less fanciful than I had supposed. To quote Alice in Wonderland, the whole story of Joan of Arc becomes curiouser and curiouser the more I learn.

It is not a story that can be well summarized in a blog post, but the basic outline is such: a young peasant girl in Domrémy began to hear voices in her father’s garden, or in the woods nearby where she played; and sometimes she saw also their source, which as it seemed to her were St Catherine and St Marguerite, two saints any French girl of the day would have been well acquainted with (the same statue of St Marguerite in front of which Joan would come to pray is still to be found in the small church of Domrémy). These voices first came to her when she was quite young, around the age of 13. All that they told her we do not know for Joan never agreed to discuss it fully, but what she did make clear is that she was ultimately commanded to defeat the English who then effectively ruled France, and see to it that the “legitimate” king (then dauphin Charles VII) be crowned in Reims.

Joan of Arc listening to her voices by Léon-François Bénouville, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen

In the beginning she was frightened, and did not completely understand, but finally in the year 1428 she agreed to obey the orders she had been given, and set out to accomplish her mission come hell or high water. She was 17 years old.

The more you learn about the historical situation in play at that time the more these aims stand out as beyond improbable, no matter who was promulgating them. England comfortably ruled the entire northern half of France, including Paris. The future “king” ruled nothing, and had already been disinherited by his own father the actual king who had agreed to turn over the crown of France to Henry VI of England.

The city of Reims was located deep in English territory in the north of France; far from having any suicidal desire to go there, the timorous Charles (himself only 26 years old) was instead planning an escape to Spain.

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the war between France and England had already been ongoing for over 90 years (it was later to be called the Hundred Years War). Shortly before Joan burst on the scene the French had suffered at Agincourt possibly the most catastrophic defeat of their entire history until Hitler came knocking five centuries later. In a single battle an entire generation of French nobility and military leaders were slaughtered. No one yet knew the war was coming to an end, for all they could tell it might drag on another 90 years. But if an end was to come it looked mighty likely to favor the English. It was at precisely this low-water mark that Joan appeared, promising to deliver for the French if they would submit to the King of Heaven.

For Joan the child, the challenges went far beyond those of merely deposing foreign powers and crowning kings who didn’t seem to want it. How was she to leave her parents? Where would she get a horse, and how was she to travel hundreds of miles through enemy territory to reach the dauphin? Even if she made it alive, what could possibly convince Charles to meet with an unknown lunatic, let alone agree to grant her unfettered command of his army, such as it was?

Joan of Arc mosaic, Sacré-Cœur, Paris

As George Bernard Shaw put it, “Joan’s pretensions were beyond those of the proudest Pope or the haughtiest emperor.” In fact they are what we would typically call madness.

But history tells us that she did indeed find a horse; she did make it to the king (who she recognized immediately although he disguised himself as a test); he did agree to make her the only teenager in all of history to command an army (she convinced him of her legitimacy by revealing to him her knowledge of a secret that only he knew); she did defeat the English in battle after battle, leading always from the front and being wounded multiple times, and dealing to them such a blow at Patay that they never ultimately recovered; she did subdue the cities all along the path to Reims and dragged the reluctant Charles there; and she did see him crowned (the English had stolen the official coronation regalia from Reims cathedral but had neglected to take the only truly essential component, the holy oil of Saint Remi, which I discussed earlier).

Joan of Arc with a reproduction of her banner, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims

All this was accomplished within six months of her first meeting with Charles. Having a premonition of things to come, she had informed him early on that she had but maybe a year, and he ought to use it wisely. He did not. No sooner was he crowned than certain influences at court began to dominate the easily manipulated monarch. They advocated for negotiations and prevarications rather than continued combat, which delays the English gladly used to their advantage. As for Joan she was now a subject of the king she had created, compelled to obey no matter how ill-conceived or ill-advised his stratagems were.

Restless and of little use, disinterested in the tedium of court life, and too naive and plain-spoken to excel at political games and palace intrigues, she asked permission to be relieved of service in order to return to her peasant life on the family farm. The request was denied.

She was occasionally permitted various raids and small actions. Her final encounter on the battlefield took place in May 1430, outside the city of Compiègne. Having encountered a larger force than expected her party retreated to the city, Joan at the very rear skirmishing to give her men time to get inside. Just as she herself approached the walls the garrison commander ordered the gates shut, trapping her outside with only a handful of others, all of whom were immediately captured. Historians have debated whether this was a deliberate act of treachery, but either way her fate was sealed.

To the bafflement of friend and foe alike, not to mention of Joan herself, king Charles made no move to ransom his most loyal subject even though rules of chivalric warfare permitted him to do so. She was eventually turned over to the church in Rouen and tried by a court of ecclesiastics paid for by the English. The clerics had clear instructions to delegitimize by any believable method Joan and by extension the French king whose existence she had made possible, and which the English still did not recognize (they were shortly to crown their own rival king of France at Notre Dame in Paris).

The trial began in January 1431 and dragged on for months. To the consternation of the judges and the increasing ire of the English military authorities, it proved remarkably more challenging than anticipated to damn a saint. The courtroom drama can not be succinctly summarized, but it is through the detailed daily transcripts of these interrogations that we finally obtain the fullest picture of Joan the individual – not the legend or myth, but rather the actual girl, in her own words.

Statue at Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc, Rouen

Her words are time and again stunning examples of eloquent simplicity. She is graced with an abundance of common sense, but lacks almost completely any perception of the cynical maneuvering going on around her. Insincerity and duplicity are alien to her. Physically decimated by the harsh conditions of her imprisonment, she manages to sustain a courage that appears to us human in shape, but not in scale. She steadfastly refused to deny the legitimacy of her celestial voices, nor would she subject herself to any earthly authority, secular or religious, that asked her to contradict or deny them. Convinced of a deliverance which her voices had promised to her, only towards the end does she begin to understand the terrible form her deliverance will take. Brought to the limit of psychological anguish, she endures only through the comfort of the saints to whom she pleads ceaselessly.

Jeanne d’Arc chapelle, Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Rouen

On the morning of May 30, 1431 Joan was chained to a stake atop a platform in the Old Marketplace of Rouen. Clutched to her breast was a small wooden cross which an English soldier had made from a stick and given to her when she called out for one. Hearing this same request a friar rushed to the nearby church of Saint-Laurent to retrieve a cross which he held up high before her, and to which she kept her eyes fixed until death. This same friar, Isambart de La Pierre, testified at the later rehabilitation trial that Joan, “being already surrounded by the flame, never ceased up to the end to proclaim and to profess in a high voice the holy name of Jesus, imploring and invoking without cease the aid of the saints of paradise, and again, which is more, while surrendering her spirit and letting her head fall, she uttered the name of Jesus as a sign that she was fervent in the faith of God.”

« Le Bucher – Emplacement où Jeanne d’Arc fut brûlée le 30 Mai 1431 »Old Marketplace, Rouen

According to witnesses even many of the judges who had condemned her wept openly during the execution, one of them saying “I wish that my soul were where I believe this woman’s soul is.” Another exclaimed “We are all lost! For we have burned a good and holy person.” When the fire died down her ashes were gathered and thrown into the Seine.

Her father died not long after the execution, overcome by grief. Earlier, after having joined King Charles, Joan had written her parents a letter begging forgiveness for the necessity of leaving them. Not only had they forgiven her, they had traveled to Reims and were present for the coronation. Two of her brothers served with her in battle, one was captured with her at Compiégne. Her mother and siblings spent the rest of their lives fighting for Joan’s exoneration, and their petitions finally prompted Pope Callixtus III to order a second trial, called the nullification or rehabilitation trial. This inquest lasted four years, during which time virtually anybody still alive who had known Joan was deposed under oath, from childhood friends, to the dukes and lords who had fought with her in battle, even to some of the judges from the first trial. The papal court declared her innocent in July 1456. Having fulfilled her own mission, Joan’s mother died shortly after.

Jacques d’Arc, Joan’s father – Basilique du Bois-Chenu, Domrémy

Importantly, to Joan’s own words from the records of the heresy trial were then added the accounts of all her contemporaries from the second trial. Multiple authentic manuscripts bearing the signatures of notaries from both occasions have survived to this day. Some maintain that historians know more about Joan’s short life than they do of any other human before her time, or for several centuries after.

And yet with all that is known, much remains a mystery that defies explanation. History has not seemed to know exactly what to make of such an exceptional character. The Catholic church burned her at the stake, but later changed its mind and exonerated her. Eventually they made her a saint (five hundred years later, in 1920). Some see her as the first Protestant, yet few I think if any Protestants today would take seriously her claims to have communed with the voices of dead saints who they don’t recognize in the first place. Certainly no secularist can accept that her actions had been divinely directed, yet neither has any compelling material explanation been given to account for her miraculous achievements.

The Great Mosaic of Christ in Glory, Sacré-Cœur, Paris – with Saint Michael, Saint Joan, France offering her crown, and the Pope offering the world

Irrespective of these conundrums, anyone interested in fascinating historical rather than fictitious characters can do worse than to study the life of Joan the Maid. They may even find themselves become as spellbound as Mark Twain, who said that she “is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.”

Hyperbolic perhaps, but then again Samuel Clemens was not made famous by understatement. Take it then from Winston Churchill, who said much the same thing a generation later:

“Joan was a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years.”

Bois-Chenu, Domrémy

Domrémy

Another weekend, another journey, this time the destination was the small village of Domrémy where Joan of Arc was born (renamed later to Domrémy-la-Pucelle or “Domrémy-the-Maid”). In the 15th century when Joan lived there it was not actually in France itself but rather somewhere out “beyond the frontier,” today it is still more or less in the middle of nowhere. There are of course no trains to this village so it meant renting a car once again, something I dreaded for weeks in advance but which turned out fine in the end.

The nearest town is Nancy in the far east of France, not far from Strasbourg (in French Nancy is pronounced something more like “Noncie”). I left Friday, first taking the TER to Paris and from there catching a TGV the rest of the way.

TGV at Gare de l’Est, Paris

TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse or “train of great speed.” The TGV was a brand new marvel in the early 80s when I was a kid in France; at that time they were all painted in a startling orange color for some reason. They are still running 40 years later, are electric powered, extremely quiet and smooth, and travel at speeds over 200 MPH (I checked the GPS on my iPhone during the trip and it’s true). I had a model TGV train set that my Grandpa bought me when he came to visit us in France, in bright orange of course, and it was about the coolest thing a kid could have.

At the time the 80s seemed like a stunning period of technological achievement. America had debuted the Space Shuttle, France had the TGV and the supersonic Concorde, and Italy had given us the Lamborghini Countach, posters of which graced the wall of every boy on earth. Aesthetically they all took on the futuristic shapes we were familiar with from the sci-fi cartoons on TV. What a wonderful time of promise, it seemed to us then. Now the US has to send its astronauts to Russia if they want to go to space, and you can longer fly from New York to Paris in 3 hours. To replace these losses we have been given the internet which constantly steals our credit cards and inundates our minds with trash. As for modern cars every one now looks like an identical and unappealing soap-bubble, and all the ones that I have driven seem to have zero rear visibility due to the massive pillars and squat shapes needed to meet safety and pollution standards. Grand national enterprises are no longer pursued anywhere in the west, other than the one of heaping up our own funeral pyre, as Enoch Powell put it; and the triumph of bureaucracy over common sense is complete.

Boy this is going to be a long blog post if I don’t quit pontificating…

Alors, we arrive in Nancy on Friday where I have a hotel through Sunday. Nancy is not my ultimate destination but since I am there we of course wore our feet out wandering about and seeing whatever there is to see. I didn’t see the half of it, but I did walk through the Parc de la Pépinière and Place Stanislas; and I also saw the Basilique Saint-Epvre and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation. I won’t post pictures of every last thing or go into the history of them all!

Equestrian statue of Joan of Arc near Basilique Saint Epvre
Place Stanislas
Arc Héré at Place Stanislas

On Saturday morning we get our car and managed to get out of town without killing anyone that I could tell, even ourselves. Domrémy is an hour’s drive to the southwest and once in the countryside I hardly saw another car the entire way there, but I did see a lot of beautiful scenery and for the first time since leaving America I actually enjoyed once more the pleasure of driving.

Just outside the village on a wooded hillside is the Basilique du Bois-Chenu. I don’t know if there is a direct translation to English of “bois-chenu” but loosely speaking it might mean something like “the time-worn forest.” Or maybe not, I really can’t tell. The basilica was built in the late 19th century to commemorate Joan of Arc shortly before her canonization in 1920. It was here that I went first, before heading down the hill to the village.

Basilique du Bois-Chenu

I find it quite interesting the church is not named after Joan directly, but in reference to an element of her childhood which became a point of contention at her heresy trial. For there was in Domrémy a tree known locally as l’Arbre Fée de Bourlemont, or the “fairy tree of Bourlemont” (it was located on land owned by a man named Pierre Bourlement), in the wooded grove near Joan’s house. A fountain was also located nearby.

The tree is long gone and the basilica now stands in its location. The spring is still marked on the hillside just below the church.

The view from Bois-Chenu across the valley

Now the children of the village were known to play around this tree, and pick flowers nearby, and hang garlands on its branches, and drink the water from the spring. Some said water from the spring could cure fevers, but at any rate the parish priest would bless it once a year, which it seems to me is a kind thing to do for your people, and probably not an uncommon practice at the time. I think it should be a practice still, if we were to be getting our water from springs. As for the fairies who might have been around the tree there were stories, but whether of a childish type, or rising to the level of actual superstition, is hard to say.

At Joan’s trial for heresy in 1431, presided over by English partisans and the conclusion of which was of course a pre-ordained certainty, this “fairy tree” was raised as a possible way to tie Joan to witchcraft or other devilry. For her accusers had thoroughly examined her past, and sent investigators to her home village, and taken depositions of the residents there and all that knew her, and therefore were informed about even the most trivial details of her childhood.

Joan freely admitted to playing by the tree as a child. “I don’t know if I danced around the tree after the age of reason; I might have danced with the other children, but I sang more than I danced” was her simple statement. Yes, she had heard it said that sick people might drink water from the spring to regain their health, and “I’ve seen people do that myself, but I don’t know if they got well or not.”

What about fairies? “I have often heard it said by old people that the fairies met there. My godmother even told me that she had seen fairies there, but I do not know whether it was true or not. I never saw any fairies under the tree to my knowledge.”

Asked whether her godmother (the wife of the mayor) was held to be a wise woman, Joan replied in her usual matter-of-fact way that she was held to be an honest woman, and not a witch or a sorceress.

Ultimately the fairy tree did not figure prominently in her indictment, other than it was described by her judges as a “profane place” in which she had spent time, and indeed had heard her “voices” nearby, the implication presumably being these voices might have been the voices of faeries or demons, rather than from God.

Statue at Bois-Chenu

To anyone who has ever been a child this is all utterly ridiculous and a clearly strained contortion of what was plainly an innocent and joyful place for children to play. Returning finally to my first comment, I am glad they decided to name the church after the cheerful grove in which it is located, and which represents a carefree and innocent period in what was ultimately to be a very short and tragic life. There are plenty of monuments around France that portray Joan the warrior, or Joan the martyr, but here, in her home town, they seem to want to remember her as they knew her, a child.

Basilique du Bois-Chenu from the hillside

The basilica is not especially large, its outward appearance gives a larger than actual impression due to the hillside into which it is built. Unusually for churches in France it is privately owned, having been funded entirely by donations, and also importantly having been built after the Revolution. The bright upper story where the actual church is contains eight large paintings of scenes from Joan’s life, they are very well done but difficult to photograph. There are beautiful mosaics on the cupolas of the transepts and choir which I also did not photograph successfully.

Inside the basilica

I have seen now many grand churches in France, and what sets this one apart from all the rest is its location – not in a crowded downtown, far from any city, just perched on a wooded hillside with nothing but nature for as far as the eye can see. The setting could not be more beautiful, or touching – especially in isolation, which this place apparently is in February.

Just down the hill and around the bend we arrive at the small village of Domrémy, population of 107 from the latest figures, representing just 33 families. I don’t know what the size of the town was in the 15th century or whether it looked very different, but one thing is clear, the town did not turn into a major metropolis on account of the fame of its illustrious daughter.

Six hundred years after her death Joan’s house still stands, a testament to the durability of building structures out of stone. It is not much to look at admittedly. It has been modified somewhat over the centuries, and was used as a storage shed in the 18th century, but the basic layout seems to have remain relatively unchanged.

Joan’s house

Directly next door to the house is the parish church of Saint-Rémy, which itself had been built nearly 200 years before Joan was born (we have mentioned St Remi before in the post on Reims – the name “Domrémy” itself means something along the lines of “dedicated to St Remi”). The church has seen some changes since Joan’s day but much of the structure is the same, including the bell-tower.

Église Saint-Rémy de Domrémy-la-Pucelle
Stained glass depiction of Joan’s martyrdom at Église Saint-Rémy

Inside the church the baptismal font where Joan was baptized is still present, as is the original holy water font at the entrance, still in use today. It is small and humble and I appreciated my time there in solitude.

Not far from Domrémy is the Gallo-Roman amphitheater of Grand from the 1st century BC, one of the largest in the Roman empire with seating of 17,000. I drove there next but it was of course closed for the winter, nor could I get a good view of it from the street due to the fences. But it does seem to be a worthwhile place to visit if you happen to be in the area. However on this day the minuscule village of Grand looked completely dead and I didn’t see a single car or person outside.

Next I drove to the small town of Vaucouleurs, just 20 km north of Domrémy (Vaucouleurs means “valley of colors”). In Joan’s time this was the nearest French garrison, and the one to which she went three times on the command of her voices, attempting to obtain a letter of introduction to the dauphin. Knowing that her father would have prohibited her from leaving, she traveled there with her “uncle” as she called him (in fact her cousin’s husband), a man named Durant Laxart, hoping to meet Robert de Baudricort, captain of Vaucouleurs. On her first visit in May 1428 Baudricort told Laxart to slap the girl a few times and return her to her father. But on her repeated visits he finally consented to provide her an escort to Chinon where the court of the dauphin Charles was then located, saying “Go… go and come what may.” « Va… va et advienne que pourra. »

Hundreds of years later the castle of Vaucouleur was torn down as the town expanded, but the city gate called La Porte de France was kept. It was through this gate that Joan left Lorraine on February 23rd, 1429, at the age of 17, never to return. Within two years time she would be dead, but not after having first changed history.

The remains of Porte de France
The remains of Porte de France

Just beyond the gate stands to this day a tilleul (lime) tree over 600 years old, the only living thing that remains from her journeys in France.

The tilleul tree outside the walls of the old Vaucouleurs gates

Photos from summertime show it to be much more impressive with foliage… but it is still quite grand (in both languages). Legend says her horse chewed its leaves when passing by.

The town of Vaucouleurs today is nestled at the foot of the hill on which the castle once stood. It is as picturesque as countless other small French villages, and probably like the rest, was mostly dead on a Saturday afternoon.

Vaucouleurs with the bell-tower of Église Saint-Laurent in foreground

I was able to go inside the 18th century Église Saint-Laurent seen in the photo above (once again, not another human around). It is unique in that the interior walls and ceiling are completely painted. It had a wonderful musty smell from what must be rather ancient wooden pews.

Église Saint-Laurent de Vaucouleurs

Down the street next to the Hotel de Ville (city hall) is a Joan of Arc museum, which was of course closed. Outside however stood another exceptional equestrian statue of the Maid, I’ve lost count now of how many of these I have seen…

Equestrian statue of Joan of Arc, Vaucoulers city hall

This particular statue was originally placed in the capital city of Algeria during the time when it was a French colony. After the Algerians gained independence in 1962 the statue was mutilated and the French thoughtfully brought it back, restored it, and planted it in Vaucouleurs where it no doubt receives much more appreciation.

On the way back to Nancy I stopped at one more attraction, the 14th-century Château de Gombervaux, or the very small part of it that is left. It is well outside of town, down a dirt road, with literally nothing but fields and hills all around. It too was sadly closed to visitors on this day and I was not able to get closer than the moat, but I appreciated again a brief moment of solitude near to something ancient, in a place far from home.

Château de Gombervaux

So ended a rather busy day, but also one in which I oddly saw very few people. We managed to return our car somehow to an underground dungeon garage hidden in a hectic section of downtown Nancy, far muddier than when we acquired it that morning; all the while our GPS helpfully chose a route that saved us two seconds travel time from any sane road, at the cost of three more heart attacks. In America my love of cars is known far and wide, but I have been terribly glad to be rid of them the two times I have had one in France.

Sunday Stroll

In France there are over 400 schools named after Joan of Arc and who knows how many streets and other places, but less than 20 churches bear her name in the whole country, and one of them just happens to be in Amiens. So to pass the time on Sunday afternoon I walked a few miles towards the edge of town to see it.

On this day the sky was even more dark than usual, making the middle of the afternoon feel like dusk. Cloudy weather is my favorite kind to be out in and I’ve been thankful to have so much of it the past few months. It’s like the Pacific Northwest only with medieval architecture and pastries – in other words, paradise.

Now on my walks I see these signs painted on the sidewalk and I really don’t know what they mean:

The arrow does not point to a marked street crossing. Does the human have a role in this image? I thought maybe they pointed the way to a dog park but I’ve not been able to find one. They remain a mystery.

After a very pleasant winter stroll we arrive at the church of Joan of Arc. It is quite modest and relatively new by European standards at only 100 years old. Fittingly, or perhaps sadly, it is located on the Rue de Rouen (road to Rouen, the city where Joan was martyred). At the peak of the facade is a relief carving of Joan on a horse, and on the gable over the entrance the Arc family coat of arms.

Église Sainte Jeanne-d’Arc d’Amiens
Tympanum

The tympanum above the door has another relief carving that depicts Joan chained to the stake, her eyes fixed to the cross that a friar has held up for her to see, after she cried out for one. What appear to be two angels to her right are encouraging her or praying for her. I am guessing these are meant to be St Catherine and St Marguerite, the two saints whom Joan claimed spoke to her.

Morning mass had ended a few hours before and the evening mass was still a few hours away, so the building was completely empty. The symmetry of these old churches that gives the eye a sense of order, the solid columns and arches that gives the body a sense of security, and the silence that gives the mind freedom, all combine to make these places of tranquility, peace and calm, to me at least – especially when you can add the element of Solitude, which is not hard to obtain even at the cathedral. This is to say nothing of any spiritual dimension to these places, which may appeal to some more than others. But even on the purely physical level I think they are wonderful places to sit and be still.

The small church has only two chapels, one to Mary and the other to Joan.

A beautiful detail is to be found on the suspended lights around the choir, surrounded by the golden words “Jhesus Maria” – the same words and unconventional spelling that Joan put on her banner and often at the end of her letters (the initials JS-M are also to be seen on the pedestal of her statue above). We see also on these candelabras the escutcheon of three fleur-de-lis on a blue background; this was the French coat of arms from the 14th century until the Revolution. I don’t know what the red-dragon coat of arms signifies.

After spending not nearly enough time at this vale of serenity, I left and took a long and circuitous route of many miles back to home, to the delight of my feet.

Along the way I saw this classic Renault 4, which the internet tells me is from the late 80s or early 90s. I have looked forward to the opportunity to see cars that simply don’t exist on the American continent, but as in America it is rare to see an old one here, or so I have found it thus far.

Renault 4 “Clan”

Here is another attention to detail that I see frequently around town – small metal shutter-catches in the shape of a young girl. This one even has a quatrefoil design on the hinge. These are quite small, really only about the size of your thumb, and one could certainly walk by a row of them without even noticing. But someone did notice this trifling space, and decided that even in the small things not merely functionality but beauty also should reside.

It is a very great idea encapsulated here in a very small physical thing. Sadly we can say that this philosophy is not only utterly lacking in America, but it is precisely antithetical to modern product design theory. In my view humans will wilt in the absence of beauty as surely as they will in the absence of water, and I credit this absence; nay this deliberate withholding of beauty – I will call it what it is – and the creation of all sorts of insulting ugliness in its stead, to be no small source of the mental illnesses proliferating in American society today.

But let us not get started on our soap box… Instead I will leave you with another vision of beauty, the view as I headed home after a perfect Sunday afternoon.