The General Roman Calendar celebrates today the feast of St. Joan of Arc, patron saint of France and of military personnel. Remembered by writers such as William Shakespeare, Voltaire and Mark Twain, Joan of Arc remained throughout the centuries a popular and inspiring figure, appearing in paintings, musical compositions and films.
Born in January 1412 in Domrémy, France, Joan of Arc, also known as "La Pucelle d'Orléans" (The Maid of Orléans), stated she experienced visions of figures she identified as the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who told her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination.
Charles VII sent Joan to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission and the siege was lifted nine days later. Several additional swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims.
In May 1430, Joan was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundian faction which was allied with the English and handed over to the English. Put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon for heresy and witchcraft, she was declared guilty after a politically-motivated trial and burnt at the stake as a heretic on 30 May 1431.
Her body was burnt twice and reduced to ashes, but legend goes that her heart wouldn't burn and her remains were then scattered into the River Seine.
In 1456, an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, debunked the charges against her, pronounced her innocent, and declared her a martyr. In 1803 she was declared a national symbol of France by the decision of Napoleon Bonaparte. Joan of Arc was beatified on 18 April 1909 by Pope Pius X and canonized on 16 May 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
Often depicted in the traditional iconography as wearing an armor and carrying a banner and a sword, in her life Joan of Arc was accused of cross-dressing since she opted for the attire of a male soldier as she travelled through Burgundian territory. The accuses of cross-dressing were resumed while she was in prison as she wore men's clothes to discourage rape (the clothes featured numerous cords by which long boots and hosen could both be fastened to the tunic).
Joan of Arc became an inspiring and legendary figure also for fashion designers: an illiterate farm girl who took charge of her country's army leading it to victory, for the late Alexander McQueen she represented the quintessential strong woman and that's why he decided to celebrate her in his S/S 1998 collection. Entitled "Joan" the runway for this collection opened with chain mail dresses and articulated armoured creations by Sarah Harmarnee and closed with a ring of fire surrounding a model in a blood red dress.
Jean-Paul Gaultier's S/S 94 collection also featured some chain mail elements, but the provocative designer channelled the spirit of Joan of Arc in other creations as well like the ones in his S/S 2010 Haute Couture collection that included some armoured accessories, while John Galliano celebrated Joan of Arc in his A/W 2006 Haute Couture collection for Christian Dior.
In more recent years there were echoes of Joan in Riccardo Tisci's S/S 2015 collection for Givenchy and in some of the designs in Rick Owens' A/W 15 collectin that looked like minimalist sacred robes. Countless photoshoots were also dedicated to Joan of Arc, among them, the editorial that appeared in the December 2010 issue of Harper's Bazaar UK and that featured Natalia Vodianova.
The latest references to Joan of Arc appeared on the red carpet of the Met Gala at the beginning of May that launched the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute exhibition "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and The Catholic Imagination".
For the occasion was Zendaya donned a Joan of Arc-inspired Versace gown (Gianni Versace's oroton was probably one of the first experiments in bringing on the runway a more feminine version of Joan's armour) while Madonna performed at the event in a trademark Jean-Paul Gaultier corset that featured an armoured shoulder piece (a new version of the outfit Gaultier designed for her MDNA tour in 2012).
Who knows, maybe also the fire effects on the runway of Gucci's Cruise 2019 show (that took place in Arles, France, tonight), were references to Joan of Arc, so, if you want to express your gratitude to the saint for all these inspirations, you could maybe do so through the "Prayer of Thanks and Gratitude to St. Joan of Arc" written by Andrea Rau:
"Dear Patron Saint, Thank you for accompanying me throughout the day, and in the work that I did. Thank you also for your guidance and your counsel. Please help me to listen to God and to you, dear Saint, that I may do what I am called to do. Please intercede on my behalf and beg God to take all my faults and turn them into virtues. I thank you for all you have done for me, and all the things you have interceded for on my behalf. Please continue to pray for me and for all the souls who need it. St. Joan of Arc, Pray for us. Amen."