May 30 – Macrina the Elder; Joan of Arc

Macrina the Elder (d. ca. 340) was a student of Gregory the Wonderworker, early formulator of the teaching of the Trinity that would find its fullest expression in the Nicene Creed some years later. She has been lauded for her intelligence, and was apparently both a good student and a good teacher, passing Gregory’s teachings on to her grandchildren, the saints Basil the Great (Jan 1), Gregory of Nyssa (Jan 10), Peter of Sebaste, and Macrina the Younger (Jul 19). She and her husband fled persecution in their hometown and lived on the Black Sea until his death. In an interesting reversal, he is nameless while she is remembered by name. Basil the Great spoke glowingly of her love for Christ, and of her forming and molding him “in doctrines of piety.” Sadly his account of her does not mention cookies at all.

Joan of Arc (1412–1431) was born a shepherdess in Lorraine and kept at it for a good while, even when she started having visions of saints and angels (well, one angel anyway). They suggested she seek out the king of France (Charles VII), so she got a kinsman to take her to the nearest army outpost, where she was dismissed dismissively. She tried again a year later, and when her prediction about a military reversal turned out to be accurate, she was taken to the king (or, well, Dauphin—it’s complicated). Fearful for her safety, she went dressed as a man. Hearing the army was marching to raise the siege of Orléans, she convinced the Dauphin to send her along as a knight. His advisors ran a background check, and found her to be humble, honest, simple, irreproachable, and Christian—in short, what is so very lacking in our world today.

The besieged were disinclined to try anything risky, but Joan rode in and led a series of successful sorties. Overruling the cautious generals, she led a frontal assault on the main English encampment, which to everyone’s surprise (except maybe hers) succeeded in lifting the siege. Many more successes followed, and it wasn’t long before she had the support of the major movers and shakers in the French army. They proceeded to Reims, recapturing all the cities along the way. There Charles was finally crowned.

Next followed a series of political blunders, and an attack on English-held Paris was called off after a day’s fighting. A truce with England later that year left Joan cooling her heels, and she spent the time drafting a threatening letter to the Hussites[1]. When the truce ended, she retook the field, but was soon captured by the Burgundians. Charles made no attempt to free her, which everybody holds against him, including me. She tried to escape several times (at one point jumping 70 feet from a tower into a dry moat), but was eventually sold to the English for 10,000 francs (and fifteenth century francs were actually worth something).

She was tried by a certain bishop Cauchon (perhaps as a quid pro quo for an archbishopric he hoped the English would grant him) for sorcery, based on the voices she heard, and her wearing of men’s clothing. Amazingly they did not have a metal bull to toss her into, so after a brief respite (in which she wore men’s clothing in her jail cell, although perhaps because her woman’s weeds were stolen), she was burned at the stake, and her ashes thrown into the Seine. She was 19 years old.

Not 25 years later her family asked the Pope (Callistus III) to revisit the trial. Its findings were overturned, and Bishop Cauchon was found to have acted out of a “secular vendetta,” and to have lacked jurisdiction anyway.

Called “la pucelle d’Orléans” (“the little flea of Orléans”—kidding, “the maiden of Orléans”), Joan was finally canonized in 1920. She is the patron saint of rape victims/survivors.

[1] Undoubtedly for some reason or other.