Family Album THE STACKS

Secular Saint

First Sip:

Slice of Cake:

It’s been my January tradition to write about
my mom, Elizabeth, and my patron saint, Joan of Arc.

One year I wrote about Joan according to George Bernard Shaw
another year about Joan according to Mark Twain.2

Last January I wrote:
“Fascination with this 17-year-old soldier/saint/adventurer never seems to die out…
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joan of Arc re-envisioned again soon

And, sure enough, last month I came across a new-to-me novel:
Joan by Katherine J Chen (2022).1

Any story about Joan of Arc is, by necessity, conjectural—
because there is so much of her life we don’t know.

In the novel’s afterword, Chen talks about
the liberties she takes with Joan’s story and
how she emphasizes Joan as “a soldier first.”

And where faith does come in, as Chen writes,
it’s less about the faith Joan has in God,
and more about the faith other people have in Joan.1

The Joan of Chen’s novel has visions
not visions of God, but visions of a free and unified France.

This Joan hears voices
not the voice of St Catherine of Alexandria,
but the voice of her sister Catherine encouraging her on.

This Joan prays—though mostly in passing.
And she sets preparations above supplications.

It is left to the people around her to accord her ‘the mantle of God’
People like Duchess Yolande of Aragon

Joan of Arc in this novel is a tough, abused child who grows tall and strong.
Who is enthusiastic about swords and armor and combat training.
Who is practical about maps, canons, and the need to feed your foot soldiers well.
Who believes peace is the prize—and war is the mechanism to
win that prize for France.

And most importantly for us readers,
this Joan is a wonderful, believable girl who grows up in a small village,
and then brings her past experiences along with her to think and re-think about them
as she travels and gains knowledge of the wider world.

Linger Awhile:

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I’ve been thinking this week about my mom
as I often do, and especially this time of year.

My mom left home as a young woman. As did Joan of Arc. As did I.
We each “searched out our own weather.”

My mom left Northern Michigan in 1945, left the farm where she grew up.
I was back on that farm this past October for a family reunion—
a gathering my mother would have loved!

While in Michigan, a few of us took a side trip
to “plunge into the unknown wood.”
We visited the old-growth forest in Hartwick Pines State Park,3
with trees up to 150 feet tall and 400 years old.

Here’s the special thing about this beautiful park:
It’s one of the very, very few places left in Michigan
to see undisturbed, native forest.

That’s because in my great-grandparents’ time,
almost all of Michigan was logged.4

I remember my mom’s stories about seeking out
the long-abandoned logging camps with her brother and sisters—
to pick fruit from old apple trees that the loggers had planted,
and finding crumbling tin cans, and lots of broken
bottles of Eckhardt & Becker beer.

“Half Cup More”

The traditional stories of her life say that
Joan of Arc heard voices and saw visions of God and the saints.

Two saints who are almost
always mentioned in stories about Joan of Arc:
St Margaret of Antioch and St Catherine of Alexandria.5,6

I did not recognize either of these saints’ names when they
showed up in Katherine Chen’s novel
(despite my Catholic upbringing).7
So… I did a little digging.

Both of these saints lived (if they lived at all) over 1000 years before Joan’s time.

Both of these saints had a dramatic escape from torture:
Catherine was to be tied to a wheel, but it broke when she touched it;
Margaret was swallowed by a dragon, then fought her way out with a metal cross.
Ultimately both were killed while still in their teens. Like Joan.

Of course, unlike Joan—who shows up in several historical records,
including court transcripts of her trials—
it is very possible that neither Margaret nor Catherine
were ever real people.5

But as far as traditional stories go,
these two saints share quite a few things in common with Joan:
A reputation for refusing marriage, for defying their fathers,
and for eloquently speaking truth to power.

Margaret of Antioch is the patron saint of
pregnant women, servant maids, and kidney-suffers.
Her feast day is July 20th.5,7

Catherine of Alexandria is the patron saint of unmarried girls; potters, spinners, and
lacemakers; dying people; philosophers, scribes, librarians, teachers and students.
Her feast day is November 25th.6,7

Take-Away Box


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me a note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…

“And then a master warned
and advised the king, being wood for anger,
that he should make four wheels of that she might be
horribly all detrenched and cut in that torment…
And anon as this blessed virgin was set in this torment,
the angel of our Lord brake the wheels by..great force.”

1 thought on “Secular Saint”

  1. Thanks Kelly! I’m always interested in people who died young after making a big impression on the world, and then become a sort of archetypal Rorschach test for artists to explore themes that are important to them.

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