Thursday, June 5, 2008
Joan of Arc at Montserrat
When I visited Montserrat, I was rather taken aback to find a tomb dedicated to Joan of Arc. I have been unable to discover why a tomb for Joan of Arc is situated at Montserrat Monastery near Barcelona in Spain.
Some peculiar suspension of historical knowledge prevented me from questioning the fact while I was there in person. I now would like to know what this tomb signifies, if it in fact houses a relic of the Saint or if it is nothing more than a memorial... If a memorial, however, why would a tomb be erected there?
Meanwhile, I discovered more interesting speculation about the very existence of the Maid. A few years ago, Dr. Serhiy Horbenko, an orthopedic surgeon from Ukraine, was invited to France to study the remains of Louis XI in order to reconstruct his face from his skull. In the Basilica of Notre Dame in Clery, near Orleans, the doctor asked for permission to study remains in other tombs in the basilica, as they belonged to other members of the same dynastic royal family as Louis XI.
He ultimately concluded that the skeleton of a female was that of Marguerite de Valois, illegitimate daughter of Charles VI and half-sister of Charles VII, the dauphin promoted by Jeanne d'Arc.
From the remains, he deduced that the woman had worn heavy armour and had lived the life of a warrior on horseback. He then made another leap in speculation to the effect that it was she, and not a peasant from the countryside, who had played the role of saviour of France. She had not been burnt at the stake, but had been relegated to what basically amounted to household arrest for the remainder of her life, from fear that she might press her own claim to the throne of France.
Five women were burnt at the stake... one of these was publicised as the Maid of Orleans, according to the doctor, even though the true Maid of Orleans lived many decades longer in royal obscurity.
This sort of speculation did not please the French, who honour Jeanne d'Arc both as heroine and saint. The theory was promoted in 2003. It has not been proven or disproven, as far as I know.
It does not answer the question of why there is a tomb dedicated to Joan of Arc at Montserrat but it is another odd twist connected to the woman who has inspired others of her gender to dream of taking the warrior path for more than a thousand years.