The media is filled with stories of teenagers, driven by religion, heading off to fight wars in unfamiliar lands. It would be crass to draw too many parallels between Joan of Arc's story and the current climate, but the deciphering of young minds is an interesting point of comparison. While future historians will draw on social media and camera-phone footage to understand motivations, students of medieval history rely on dense Latin scripts to understand Joan.
With that in mind, Dr Helen Castor's documentary, Joan of Arc: God's Warrior, bringing to life the French icon's own words from the trial that ended in her being burnt at the stake, was a fascinating one.
First, Castor gave us an engaging primer on Joan's story: the illiterate French peasant girl who claimed angels sent from God instructed her to join the war against the English. Dressed in men's clothing, she led an army of soldiers to victory and helped Charles VII to the crown. Eventually captured, she was tried, convicted of heresy and sentenced to death.
Since then, Joan has become many things to many people: Catholic saint, feminist poster girl, darling of the Front National and inspiration to centuries of artists, but not much is known of the woman. Castor filled us in where she could. There was a lot of walking round medieval ramparts bathed in beatific light, which might have felt trivial if it was not for her access to contemporary documents from the trial. She reconstructed original dialogue and where some historical reconstructions jar, the words were the stars here.
We were shown that the more Joan talked, the more she convinced the court that she was motivated not by God, but by the devil. Of her death, we were told that "as flames took hold, she called the name of Jesus over and over again".
This human take on the tale, more than anything, showed the unwavering power of blind faith.Reuse content