I am writing these lines in a small inn of Domrémy, on the evening of my pilgrimage to the lowly dwelling of Jeanne d’Arc. My table is an old coffer, shakily placed on the rugged and disjointed paving stones which form the floor, and my only companion a kitten gambolling in the red rays of the setting sun. I thus begin my account of that house which has been well called the santa casa of France.
Arriving at Domrémy while yet its green valleys were enveloped in the white vapors rising from the Meuse, my first sight of the place was through the mist of early morning.
It is a small village of Lorraine, near the confines of Champagne. God, who so often wills to choose a mere nothing through which to exercise his power, chose it as the starting-point of his work for the deliverance of France. For Domrémy was a little village also in the year 1425, when there the heavenly light appeared, there the angel descended, and the voices not of earth were heard.
The mutilation of this province by the German invasion has only rendered Domrémy more lorrain than ever: and the Vosges Mountains raise their blue summits along the horizon and lengthen their shadows as if the better to guard the home of her who was the good angel of her country.
The village consists of scarcely more than a hundred houses, clustered round the venerable church and the old walls of the cottage which sheltered the infancy and youth of the daughter of Jaques d’Arc and his wife Isabelle Romée.
This church, to which her earliest steps were bent, the place of her prayers and inspirations, where she armed her soul with virtue and heroism before arming her breast like a brave warrior preparing for battle – this church is more than lowly, it is poor; and it is matter for wonder that, if no one else does so, at least that the maidens of France do not organize themselves into an association which should make it their chosen sanctuary, and by which they would engage themselves not only to provide it with what is necessary and fitting, but with pious generosity to enrich and beautify their privileged altar.
At the threshold of the church stands a ridiculous statue of Jeanne d’Arc. It seems a sort of sacrilege so to have misrepresented the features of the Maid; and the best way to dispose of this image would be to throw it into a furnace and melt it down in company with the still more objectionable equestrian statue recently erected in the Place des Pyramides at Paris, which insults the modest virgin by placing her astride on her charger, in a complete suit of armor, instead of the steel breastplate which alone she wore over her womanly apparel. Then, out of the metal of these molten caricatures might be struck medals of worthier design, to be distributed in the country.
Among the trees at a few paces from the church is a little Greek monument supported by four columns, beneath which is a bust of Jeanne in white marble. Facing this little monument, about a stone’s throw off, stands her dwelling. This house is separated from the road by two pavilions connected by a railing of gilt arrows. Trees envelop its walls with their overshadowing branches, and a third part of the roof is covered with ivy. Above the door, which is low, are three shields of armorial bearings, the Arms of France, charged with a sword, and those of the family of D’Arc; or, to speak more exactly, the door is surmounted by three escutcheons, namely, that of Louis XI., who caused the cottage to be embellished; that which was granted to one of the brothers of Jeanne, together with the name of Lys; and a third, which bears a star and three ploughshares, to symbolize Jeanne’s heavenly mission and the lowly condition of her parents. Two inscriptions in uncial Gothic are graven on the stone: “Vive Labeur!” – the motto of Jeanne and the resumé of her history; and “Vive le Roi Loys!” – the resumé of her great work.
On the left of the door is a lattice window with diamond-shaped panes. Two rooms constitute the whole of the house. Jeanne was born in the first and larger of the two; the second and inner one is dimly lighted by a small window opening towards the church. Here it was that Jeanne listened to the heavenly voices, and here she heard the church bells summoning to prayer, or sounding the tocsin, when the village was attacked by marauding bands who came to sack the place and cut down the partisans of the throne of France.
On several occasions fugitives were concealed by her in this obscure chamber. She gave up her bed to them, and went to rest in the hayloft.
Facing the hearth in the entrance room is a statue in bronze, reduced from the expressive figure by the Princess Mary of Orleans. Garlands of moss surround this statue, and rose-leaves are scattered at its feet. The nuns who are in charge of the house assemble every evening in this room with the young girls of the village, to sing hymns. On the wall hangs a crucifix, and beneath it stands an image of the Blessed Virgin; and here the nuns with their little flock keep the month of Mary, celebrating the praises of the Royal Virgin of Judah, who was so dear to the heart of the virgin of Domrémy.
Here and there upon the walls are ex votos, slabs of marble and bronze relating facts worthy of remembrance in honor of Jeanne, or recalling historic dates. The beams and rafters of the ceiling are dinted by axe and sabre strokes given by the Prussians in 1814, not by any means from disrespect, or motives of jealousy, but merely from an outbreak of destructive devotion. They entered the house, silent, and with their hats off, but they did not wish to leave it without taking from it some relics to carry into their own country.
Numerous pilgrims have been guilty of the low and objectionable proceeding of carving their names on the stones of the house, although a register is kept at hand on purpose to receive the visitors’ names and impressions. The piece of furniture on which the volumes are placed was presented last year by a prince of France, and accompanied by the gift of a piece of Gobelin tapestry representing the entry of King Charles VII. and Jehanne la bonne Lorraine into the city of Rheims.
The latest volume of the register commences in 1871, after the disasters and misfortunes of France. To every name inscribed in its pages, whether of aristocrat or commoner, officers of the army or men of the rank and file, thoughts are elaborated of more or less pretension to literary merit, in prose or verse, but the dominant idea is prayer to God for the salvation of France, and grateful love to Jeanne d’Arc; while here and there are appeals to the Sovereign Pontiff for the beatification of the young patriot martyr, or at any rate for a solemn affirmation of the miraculous nature of her call and the sanctity of her life.
A touching incident occurred not quite a year ago. One evening in the month of May, two English ladies, nuns of the Order of Servites, visited the house, accompanied by a priest of Vaucouleurs, and had no sooner crossed the threshold than, falling on their knees, they burst into tears, entreating God to pardon England, guilty of the death of Joan of Arc, and making a fervent act of reparation for their country, their ancestors, and themselves. Nor did they rise before they had kissed the floor of that lowly cottage where she had so often knelt in prayer to God and in converse with his glorified saints, and where she had lived in the fulfilment of the daily duties of her lowly estate.
On another occasion a band of volunteers, on their way to join the army, came to ask La Pucelle to help them to be good soldiers, and begging her blessing on themselves and their arms as they would that of a canonized saint. A cavalry officer made a visit to Domrémy expressly to remind her that one of his comrades in arms died at Gravelotte repeating her name. A great number of officers who made their escape from Germany also came hither direct from the frontier, to return thanks for their safety, before returning to the homes where their families were anxiously awaiting them.
A great pope has said, “France will not perish, for God has always a miracle in reserve to save her.”
The miracle came in the middle of the XVth century, in the person of Jeanne d’Arc. It may come again through her instrumentality; not this time leading on the victors at Orleans, Patay, Troyes, Rheims, Compeigne, Paris, or dying at Rouen amid the flames, but crowned a saint upon the Church’s altars, as a powerful intercessor for her native land. Mgr. Dupanloup has given a great impetus to the desire for forwarding her cause at the infallible tribunal of the Catholic Church.
Gerson, the great and pious chancellor, and the contemporary of Joan of Arc, ardently desired the same cause, which is now taken to heart, not only by the illustrious bishop, but also by the clergy, the magistrature, and the army in Orleans, who are at the head of various commissions employed in obtaining the evidence necessary for aiding the judgment of the Sovereign Pontiff. He will have a pleasant task who may be entrusted to collect the popular traditions which linger like a fragrance at Domrémy, of the innocent and holy life of Joan of Arc, and to him the very walls of her cottage birthplace will be eloquent: lapides clamabunt.
– text taken from the 1875 issue