Mont-Saint-Michel, 1430

After the siege of Paris, when her Voices abandoned her, the Maid of Orleans went missing from historical records for four months before she was captured. She might have used the time to secure the defenses of Mont-Saint-Michel with captured English mortars. Her army would have traveled undetected at night, as they did for eleven nights during the trip from Vaucoulers to the uncrowned dauphin in Chinon. The trip from Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel was even shorter.

The English guarded the entranceway and sold passes to devote pilgrims. Their soldiers lined the shore, out of arrow range, sporting with the shepherdless sheep who would grace their campfires as roasted mutton soon enough. There was plenty of time to starve the French out of their last unconquered home in Normandy. Nevertheless, the French never lost Mont-Saint-Michel to the English. In 1430, one-hundred and nineteen knights and their entourages held off the round-headed Englishmen from overtaking the Mont.

And one night in early January against the dark silhouette of the Mont, Joan of Arc might have crept into a dark Avranches stable, escorted only by her confessor. The northern most Normandy coastal town ends where at low tide a surf-free causeway leads to the Mont.

The farmer would have heard the family’s cow protest and hurry out to investigate. He found Joan on her knees rapt in prayer. The soldier clothes on the young girl made it clear the Maid of Orleans was praying for all the stolid peasants and rough soldiers of the French nationalists, the Armagnacs. Afraid to startle this marvelous child attuned to the slightest whispering of God, the farmer heeded the monk’s plea for silence and slipped out of the barn. He sent his wife with clothes to disguise their new milkmaid.

Brother Richard said Joan was determined to buy a pass from the English to seek out further instructions from Saint Michael. She’d planned to come on Saint Michael’s Day, October 16th, but the Battle of Hastings kept her occupied. She told their French-speaking, Normandy hosts of her comrades falling on the fields of battle for France and worse: losing their faith in her mission at the siege of Paris.

She spoke long into the night about the exploits of her brothers, Jean and Pierre; her cousins, Durand Laxart and Burey-le-Petit. As well-loved as her family; her early escorts to Chinon from Voucouluers, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulegny, were as loyal and sure hearted as herself. Nevertheless, even the later heroes of her campaigns, General La Hire and the beautiful Dunois, were dead now. All gone.

Wolves had roamed the streets of Paris and few provinces south of the Loire held for France, when St. Joan’s Voices first called her. Now, even the King told her how difficult it was to believe unless miracles happen to you.

The day after her first communion in the summer of her thirteenth year, St. Joan heard her Voices while the noon Angelus bells were ringing. She beheld these Visions in her father’s garden two paces from the church. In her later trial, she would describe their arrival, “They came as painted in the churches.”

Brother Richard noticed the peasant couple’s growing disbelief. He chided them, “What can you believe? Cannot God pay attention to a single soul who believes the supernatural world makes itself manifest?”

Joan had grown accustomed to proselytizing critics. “They told me to ‘go to France,’ two or three times a week. Saint Michael promised the virgin martyrs, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, would provide counsel for God’s mission to crown the dauphin.” Joan offered the monk’s cup to their host for a refill of wine. “My Voices told of ‘the pity that was the kingdom of France’.”

The couple could only nod in agreement with that heavenly assessment. The monk took advantage of their receptability. “For four years Joan kept her inspiration secret. Neither I nor her parents knew. But when her father dreamt of Joan on horseback, he threatened to drown her with his own hands so Joan revealed her mission.”

Joan shook her cropped head at her father’s folly. “In 1428 my Voices became more insistent. They told me, ‘If Orleans falls, France is gone. And again, Daughter of God, go forth. I will be your guide’.”

The farmer, his wife and Brother Richard watched the future saint look around their kitchen, perhaps expecting to see or hear from her Saints.

Joan hoped if she could get inside Mont-Saint-Michel, Scotland might offer her refuge. Scottish supplies still ran the blockade behind the Mont, past the bored and sleepy English on Tomberlaine. Moreover, St. Joan trusted Hamish Power, a Scot diplomat. Eleven months before he had presented her with her heraldic standard, fleur-de-lis on white linen with silken gold fringe. She carried it from Orleans to the crowning of King Charles in the Rheims Cathedral. On July 17, 1429 at the Rheims Cathedral, wearing a gold and velvet cloak over her white armor, she held the Scottish-made banner proudly. At the Bishop’s objection, Joan of Arc answered, “The banner has borne the burden and it has earned the honor.”

St. Joan told the couple after Rheims, her capricious Voices told her she would, “…last but a year.”

She sought Saint Michael’s enlightenment at Mont-Saint-Michel and hoped to persuade the helpful Scots into diverting some of their resources to her troops without going through the King’s hands.

“She’s no sorceress,” the farmer’s good wife said. “Those horrid Englishmen will sell a pilgrim’s pass to a monk fast enough, but a young girl might give them other ideas.”

“That new horse blanket,” the farmer agreed, “is coarse enough to pass for monk garb.”

So it was that Joan of Arc, with her armor well hidden under the religious disguise, set foot inside the gates of Mont-Saint-Michel. The Scottish envoy was immediately called home for further instructions.

St. Joan wandered, a lost soul seeking God’s own ear, among the pilgrims sheltered in the Almonry for three months. Each entablature and capital of the columns held a unique design, varying and vying with its neighbor as did the roscaces and carved foliage on the Cloister pillars; but no spiritual news from St. Michael drifted among their heights.

Hammish Power did return in March of the ill-fated year (1430) and promised Scotland could offer Joan refuge with assurances of ransom if she were captured. The diplomat presented Joan with a great, fur-collared cape; but he had no funds or pledges of continued help for France, no funds for her weary troops famishing in the fields around Paris.

Joan dined with him and several of the off-duty knights in the great hall. The salty mutton stew cheered her into retelling her plans for pushing the English out. She stood at the broad dining table pointing out the advantageous moves her troops could still make. Maps were rolled out, held down with empty bowls of the stew. Sir Cabay, or was it Sir Icabus, asked about the advantage of spring floods again, when Joan first heard the jangle of Saint Catherine’s golden bracelets.

Joan looked up to see a young girl’s long red hair circling a blue cotton dress high above her. Saint Catherine seemed surprised to see Joan in the dark hall. Moreover, Joan could not remember Saint Catherine’s simple frock. Usually she whore layers upon layers of rich embroidered silk. Perhaps this was a sleeping dress.

The present-day Catherine Marksteiner rubbed her eyes as if to confirm she had been sleeping.

The knights were confused by her trance, but Joan’s black-robed confessor pulled them back to the fireplace for more stew, explain their leader’s sources of inspiration.

Joan usually felt ecstasy in the presence of her Voices but she realized the awful truth. There would be no plans for her troops to carry out. It was over and the English would not be thrown out. She nestled down into her cape letting the collar cover hear ears. Saint Catherine did not seem to have a message. Maybe she would answer a question. “Shall I be with you soon?” Joan of Arch asked.

Catherine the dreamer answered yes. If dreams hold parts of reality, then St. Joan will always live in the dreams of young girls.

But Joan thought Catherine was of her earlier world of saintly Voices and heard the answer as her death sentence.

02-11-15 joan-of-arc-19th-century

And in late April when the tide was as high as the highest step at the main gate, supply barges hid along the outer coast of the bay. In the dark of the moon, the only lights to be seen were the campfires of the English on the inland-side of the cove. Faithful lantern holders along the southern side of the island prepared the signal. The empty supply barge left Mont-Saint-Michel. St. Joan was not surprised when the oarsmen spoke, English or when they tied her arms behind her back. She succumbed long before the fire licked her holy heels.