“She was perhaps the only entirely unselfish person whose name has a place in profane history.”

Last Wednesday (19 Aug for those of you keeping track), I took the train from Bayeux to Rouen for a day.

Gare de Rouen - the Rouen train station
Gare de Rouen – the Rouen train station

I was curious to see the cathedral and to explore a little bit about Joan of Arc.

One of the few militant images of Joan in the museum.
One of the few militant images of Joan in the museum.

The French call her Jeanne d’Arc, and they say it in about a syllable and a half.  An aside about the French language: if Icelandic includes a surplus of syllables, French has a surplus of letters but a deficit of syllables. Having never really studied French, I really have no idea which letters they will pronounce at any given point, but I could listen to it all day. /aside

It is hard to overstate how important Jeanne is to French history and even perhaps French identity. She was a young girl who cross-dressed and led troops into battle in the 15th century during the 100 Years War after receiving visions from two saints instructing her to act as she did. Sadly she was betrayed and burned at the stake by a French court under English control right outside the Rouen Cathedral. She was canonized in 1920 but has been used many times throughout the intervening centuries as a symbol of the French people.

I have never seen this movie, but now I want to.
I have never seen this movie, but now I want to.

The city of Rouen recently opened a multimedia museum honoring Jeanne, right behind the Rouen cathedral.

This statue, like many others, focuses on the burning-at-the-stake bit of the story. It also gives you a little sense of the beauty of the archbishop's palace, where the museum is located.
This statue, like many others, focuses on the burning-at-the-stake bit of the story. It also gives you a little sense of the beauty of the archbishop’s palace, where the museum is located.

It’s in the archbishop’s palace, where both of Jeanne’s trials took place. For the exhibit, you go through the palace in groups of about 20 people and watch a series of presentations. The premise is reliving Jeanne’s posthumous trial that took place 25 years after her death and examining all of the evidence, which takes you on a detailed history of her life and achievements. I’m not sure how to describe the “presentations:” each room was a little different, but for the most part, documentary-like video was projected somehow in the room, often using the architectural features of the room as part of the display. It was a unique museum experience. Some of the videos included film footage from the various Joan of Arc movies in the last 75 years while others were clearly filmed for the museum opening itself. Everything was in French, but I was given an audio guide that translated into English in real time. After the presentations were complete and Jeanne was exonerated of heresy (too little, too late, imho), I had free time to wander about the palace and explore some of the other exhibits about the impact of Jeanne on French history (read: huge).

Also in Rouen and breathtaking is the Rouen Cathedral.

Rouen Cathedral
Rouen Cathedral

As the capital of Normandy, Rouen played an important religious and political role in Norman history for hundreds of years.

The nave of Rouen Cathedral
The nave of Rouen Cathedral

The Rouen Cathedral is also the burial place of such dignitaries as Empress Maud, her son William FitzEmpress (Henry II of England’s brother), Richard the Lionheart’s heart (or a box that was supposed to contain it) and my very favorite: Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy.

Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy is buried in Rouen Cathedral.
Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy is buried in Rouen Cathedral.

Now I’m not sure of the spoiler alert protocol for millenium-old history, but all the same, Vikings spoiler alert. I imagine this season of Vikings will explore this, but Rollo (Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother in the series, though not in real life) became the first Duke of Normandy and from him all Norman kings of England were eventually descended. He didn’t marry a French princess as the show is implying, but he did marry the Count of Rennes’s daughter. Of course, his burial effigy shows a lion at his feet.

The lion of Normandy is at Rollo's feet
The lion of Normandy is at Rollo’s feet
And this is a matter of personal preference, but if his burial effigy is any indication, the real Rollo was nowhere near as attractive as Clive Standen. Now you know.
Title quote: Mark Twain about Joan of Arc Source

2 thoughts on ““She was perhaps the only entirely unselfish person whose name has a place in profane history.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s