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Following the Steps of Joan of Arc: a French Tradition in the City of Orléans by Hélène de Lauzun

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Following the Steps of Joan of Arc: a French Tradition in the City of Orléans

For two years, due to the epidemic of COVID, the Johannine celebrations commemorating Joan of Arc’s victory in the Hundred Years’ War against the English in the siege of Orléans in 1429 could not be held. This tradition has been almost uninterrupted for six hundred years, and the times it did cease to run, it was only because of wars. 

Every year, the city of Orléans, located on the banks of the Loire River, honors the courageous virgin who delivered it from the enemy. It is the occasion of a great ceremony in which a young girl of fifteen years old, dressed in an armor, embodies the saint and goes through the streets of the city on horseback. 

Each year, a selection committee meets to choose the girl who will have the honor of following in the footsteps of the secondary patron saint of France. It brings together representatives of the three orders—religious, military, and civil. In order to be chosen the candidate must meet three conditions: live for at least ten years in Orléans or in the surrounding area, be a practicing Catholic, be educated in Orléans, and be involved in the service of others (associative activities, scouting…). There is no need to know how to ride a horse: the lucky candidate can receive accelerated training from a cavalry regiment based not far from Orléans to make a good impression on the big day.

Clotilde Forgeot d’Arc.

Photo: Facebook page of Orléans Métropole.

This year, the committee chose the young Clotilde, who has the honor of bearing the first name of a holy and illustrious queen of France, to whom the French owe the conversion and baptism of her husband, the Frankish warrior Clovis, thus bringing France into the circle of Christian nations. But that’s not all: Clotilde, whose family name is Forgeot d’Arc, descends through her father from Pierre, one of Joan of Arc’s brothers. The d’Arc family has been extinct in the male line since the 17th century, but it has many descendants in the female line who have kept the name to this day. The committee assures us that her ancestry did not play a role in the final choice. Even if it did, it is a real testimony to the commitment of this young girl, for whom the family heritage of faith and devotion still has meaning today. Two young boys from Orleans were also chosen to serve as her pages.

Being chosen to play Joan the Maid of Orleans is not a simple matter of representation, but a real commitment. In a few days, Clotilde Forgeot d’Arc will begin a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the shepherdess of Lorraine, following the major stages of her epic journey. First, to Domrémy, the village in Lorraine where she was born and where her first visions took place. Then to Vaucouleurs, a garrison where for the first time she tried to speak and convince the military regiment about her mission. Reims, the city of the coronation of the kings of France, comes next. Toward the end of the trip, Clotilde Forgeot d’Arc will go to Compiègne, where Joan was imprisoned, and then finally on to Rouen, the place of her martyrdom. 

The French journalist Charlotte d’Ornellas, who today embodies authentic conservative journalism for the magazine Valeurs Actuelles and on the news channel CNews, was also once chosen in 2002 to embody Joan. 

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).

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