May 30: Memorial Day/Memorial of St. Joan of Arc

Today — which in the U.S. this year happens to be Memorial Day — is also the anniversary of the death of St. Joan of Arc, who was burnt at the stake on May 30th in 1431.  Probably not even twenty years old when she died, she continues to live in the popular imagination as a warrior, dressed in military armor, riding into battle.  Joan thus seems to embody something quite different from what traditional images of femininity suggest.  She was listening to higher, “inner voices,” as she herself described them.  And in that she displayed, powerfully, how God’s calling can function as a profound challenge to established gender identities and their cultural codes.  Holy lives, in other words, also embody their own profound challenges to the living of gendered identity.  Thank you, Saint Joan of Arc, for the witness of your own, short life, on this, your memorial day.


  1. Certainly one of the very strangest of the saints. If she can be seen nowadays as some kind of patron(ess) for challenging gender roles, she might just as well also be seen as a heavenly advocate for using violent intraChristian military means to consolidate emerging nation-states and their ethnic identities.
    Patroness of European Wars? Discerning what Providence had in mind by using her to solidify the throne of Charles VII is certainly beyond my pay grade.

  2. Was she about putting Charles VII on the throne, or about stopping the Hundred Years War?

    In my mind, her voices may have been more the result of schizophrenia than heavenly intervention. Even so, she followed her conscience against pressure from society and Church to do what she thought God was calling her to do.

  3. I was in France one year for the feast day of St Joan. The preacher who was notorious for abstract and complicated homilies began…in French of course…”When France was occupied by the English…” Certainly if this rather traditional and well-educted priest saw Joan as the liberator of France, I should think that this is what most of the French think. That France should be free seemed to him to be the will of God and Joan the instrument. If we had canonized George Washington, it would be about the same.

  4. Certainly we all make meaning with saints in very particular (and not always appropriate) ways… and maybe some saints in the calendar should simply be given over to oblivion. Joan of Arc, I think, isn’t one of them, even if we need to be very careful about which facet of her life to highlight in remembering her today. Presumably, her sanctity ultimately has to be found in her orientation toward God’s calling in her life, against all conventions and particular codes and circumstances of her day. And as to her “militaristic” image: I have little trouble translating that into today, as women (and men also) do battle in faith, against a multitude of evils, from those who prey on our children to those who carelessly harm the earth we live on.

  5. “Holy lives, in other words, also embody their own profound challenges to the living of gendered identity.”
    So would the Church similarly honor a male who lived the Gospel by challenging his gendered identity? And I do mean as Jeanne did – in matters of dress and by immersing himself in sociological contexts usually associated only with females.

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