translated by Allen Williamson

Joan of Arc's letter to the clergy at Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois

Letter to the clergy at Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois
(Late March - Early April 1429)
 

Introduction

In her testimony at the Condemnation trial, Joan of Arc mentioned dictating a letter to the clergy at Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois, in order to ask for a sword she predicted would be found near the altar of the chapel there.
Since it was dictated when she was "at Tours or Chinon", this indicates the period in late March and early April when she went from Poitiers to Chinon and then to Tours.

The testimony is included below, in the original format (the standard third-person rendering that was the normal procedure in medieval court transcripts). An English translation is on the left, notes and commentary on the right. A transcription of the original language is also available.


English Translation Notes and Commentary

[Excerpt from the trial session on 27 February 1431]

"She additionally said that when she was at Tours or Chinonn1 - in French, 'a Chinon'n2 - she sent for a sword in the Church of Saint-Catherine-de-Fierbois,n3 behind the altar; and immediately afterward it was found, all rusted. Asked how she knew this sword to be there, she replied that this sword was in the ground, rusted, upon which were five crosses; and she knew it to be there through the Voices;n4 and she had never seen the man who went to get the aforesaid sword; and she wrote to the churchmen of that place, in order that they might be willing for her to have this sword, and they sent it to her. And it wasn't very far under the ground, behind the altar as it seems to her, nevertheless she doesn't know exactly whether it was in front of the altar or behind, but she thinks she wrote at that time that the aforesaid sword was behind the altar.n5 Additionally, she says that immediately after the aforesaid sword was found, the churchmen there rubbed it and the rust immediately came off without force; and it was an arms merchant from Tours who went to get it, and the churchmen there gave Joan herself a sheath, and likewise also those of Tours; and they had two sheaths made, one of red velvet, and the other of gold cloth, and she herself had another one made of good strong leather..."1

[From Article XIX of the first set].n6

Asked how she knew the aforesaid sword to be there, she replied that it was in the ground, rusted, having five crosses; and she knew this through her Voices, saying that she had never seen the man whom she sent to get the aforesaid sword; and she wrote to the churchmen that they might be willing for her to have the aforesaid sword, which they sent to her. And it wasn't very deep in the ground, behind the aforesaid altar, as it seems to her; but nevertheless she doesn't know exactly whether it was in front of or behind [the altar], but believes that she wrote that it was behind."2


 
 

Note 1: She was at Chinon from late March to c. April 5th, and at Tours until c. April 21st.
Note 2: The notaries added the original French here (rather than just the Latin translation), although this was an unusual instance for them to do so.

Note 3: This was a famous church in which generations of soldiers had donated weapons or armor in honor of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The town of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois is located about 20 miles east of Chinon.

Note 4: She identified these "voices" or visions as the Archangel Michael, and Saints Catherine and Margaret. Although there is a common misconception that her visions were described merely as auditory sensations which she alone could hear, this is based on only one portion of the evidence: she herself, as well as other sources such as the Cailly patent-of-nobility, stated bluntly that other people (e.g., the Count of Clermont, Guy de Cailly, etc) could simultaneously experience her visions, which sometimes took a concrete physical form which she and occasionally other people could see, touch, etc, rather than merely "voices" internal to her own mind.

Note 5: Other sources give various locations within the church: e.g., the "Chronique de la Pucelle" and "Journal du Siège d'Orléans" say that it was found among other swords which had been donated to the church; Guerneri Berni claims it was on the tomb of a knight; Jean Chartier's chronicle just says it was at a "certain place" within the church. Joan's own testimony is obviously preferable to these more indirect sources.

 

 

 
Note 6: This was among the first set of 70 articles, and includes a summary of the previous testimony.


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