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Jehanne: Portraits of a Saint

 

Her Sword

learn about this and other portraits from Rouen
Portrait: Jesus Maria; Notre-Dame Cathedral, Rouen

"But I loved my banner forty times better than my sword. And when I went against the enemy, I carried my banner myself, lest I kill any. I have never killed a man." In Her Own Words, p. 27

"...I loved that sword, because it was found in the church of St. Catherine, whom I loved."
Trial of Condemnation, February 27, 1431, Fourth Session

 

 


"When I was at Tours or at Chinon I sent to seek a sword which was in the church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois, behind the alter, and it was found at once all covered with rust.

Inquisitors: How did you know that this sword was there?

"This sword was in the earth, all rusty, and there were upon it five crosses, and I knew it by my voices.... I wrote to the prelates of the place that if they please I should have the sword and they sent it to me. It was not very deep under ground behind the alter, as it seems to me, but I do not know exactly whether it was before or behind the altar. After this sword was found, the prelates of the place had it rubbed, and at once the rust fell from it without difficulty. There was an arms merchant of tours who went to seek it, and the prelates of that place gave me a sheath, and those of Tours also, with them, had two sheathes made for me: one of red velvet and the other of cloth-of-gold, and I myself had another made of right strong leather. But when I was captured, it was not that sword which I had. I always wore that sword until I had withdrawn from Saint-Denis after the assault against Paris." Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses, p. 61-62

Little is known about Joan's sword, other than what her own words tell us--that it had five crosses upon it and that the rust was easily removed. The sword is no where else described in either her Condemnation Trial or her Rehabilitation Trial. This has left many historians scratching their heads, for they don't know the length, weight, or height, nor the design of the hilt, pommel, or blade. The fact that her sword had a design, the five crosses, was not unusual during the early medieval period. Many blacksmiths added inlays as personal trademarks.

The story of how Joan found her sword is perhaps the most intriguing connection to her sword. According to her own words, her voices instructed her as to its whereabouts behind the altar at the church of Saint Catherine. Joan had great devotion to Saint Catherine so it's no surprise that the sword came from a church which was dedicated to her. The fact that it was found behind the alter, buried is not all together unusual. It was common practice in that day for soldiers to leave their swords or armor as an offering of thanksgiving after battle. Many legends abound as to who might have left this sword. One is that it belonged to Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne, who halted the Muslim invasion in Europe. There are two versions of this legend. One is that Charles Martel founded the church of Saint Catherine de Fierbois and that he secretly buried his sword for the next person whom God would choose to find it and save France. The other is that he left it there as an offering after his victory at Tours.

Joan mentions the two scabbards that were given to her to hold her precious sword. However, the ever-practical Maid had one constructed out of durable leather. This would make sense if she was to use it in battle.

The sword found at Saint Catherine of Fierbois was not her only sword. She had one that had been given her in Vaucouleurs, by Sir Robert de Baudricourt, and another that she had taken from a Burgundian soldier. When her judges questioned her about the whereabouts of the sword from Saint Catherine of Fierbois (because they certainly didn't want any relics floating around), she refused to provide an answer, saying it did not concern the case. The only information she would give is that it was lost and that her brothers had the rest of her goods. When pressed about her own offering of sword and armor at Saint Denis she answered that she had not offered the sword from Saint Catherine of Fierbois.

So, then, after all this conjecture about Joan's sword, many people wonder what she used her sword for if not to kill? Personal testimony as well as witness accounts say that she used a sword to chase prostitutes out of camp! She mentions to her judges that the Burgundian's weapon was, "excellent for giving hard clouts and buffets." Trial of Condemnation, February 27, 1431, Fourth Session. Some say this is how the famous sword of Catherine of Fierbois met its demise, breaking in half after swatting two camp trollops.

 

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