'One life is all we have': The surprising sainthood of Joan of Arc

Wikimedia CommonsAn oil-on-parchment depiction of Joan of Arc, a Saint in the Catholic Church.

On this day in 1920, the woman known as Joan of Arc was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. The move might have surprised Joan, since 500 years earlier, the Church had burned her at the stake.

The setting for Joan's story is the 15th century, in the intense conflict between England France known as the Hundred Years War. England's king, Henry V had claimed the French crown and conquered some of the country.

When he died, his young son Henry VI was the supposed king of England and France. The resident French king Charles VII was reluctant to take a stand against the English population.

So Joan, a 13-year-old peasant girl raised on a farm, went to the French court with a mighty claim. She said voices and visions from heaven had told her to dress as a knight and lead the French into battle. It was decided she was telling the truth. Joan rallied the nation, led the French into battle and defeated the English.

Unfortunately, she was eventually captured by the English, who put her on trial as a witch. They said the voices she'd heard were not from God, but Satan. In 1431 at age 19 she was burned at the stake for heresy, several times over so that only ashes and no relics would remain.

Over time however, it was determined that Joan's trial had been unjust, and she became an icon to the French and the Church – and showed that grace and greatness could be shown by anyone of any class. The young woman known as 'The Maid of Orléans' would also become to Catholics the patroness of soldiers and France.

She was beatified in 1909, and further canonised, making her officially a saint, in 1920. She is also venerated in the Anglican Communion as a visionary, and her feast day is on May 30.

This quote is ascribed to Joan, and captures her dynamic legacy: 'One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it.

'But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.'