Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

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In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.

A Prayer to St. Joan of Arc for Faith

The photo in the banner image above is of the statue of Saint Jeanne d’Arc, known to us as Joan of Arc, in the Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris.

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The story of Joan of Arc is one of the most widely known of all the saints. Wikipedia offers this sketch:

Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc in French, (c. 1412 – May 30, 1431) was a 15th century national heroine of France. She was tried and executed for heresy when she was only 19 years old. The judgment was broken by the Pope and she was declared innocent and a martyr 24 years later. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized as a saint in 1920.

Joan asserted that she had visions from God which told her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege at Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to Charles VII’s coronation at Reims and settled the disputed succession to the throne.

The renewed French confidence outlasted her own brief career. She refused to leave the field when she was wounded during an attempt to recapture Paris that autumn. Hampered by court intrigues, she led only minor companies from then onward and fell prisoner at a skirmish near Compiègne the following spring. A politically motivated trial convicted her of heresy. The English regent John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford had her burnt at the stake in Rouen. She had been the heroine of her country at the age of 17 and died when only 19 years old. Some 24 years later, Pope Callixtus III reopened the case, and a new finding overturned the original conviction. Her piety to the end impressed the retrial court. Pope Benedict XV canonized her on May 16, 1920.

The fact that Joan cut off her hair and dressed in men’s clothes in an attempt to force the royal court and the military leadership to take her and her visions seriously is also well known. The fact that she was ultimately murdered for it, however, is not. Again, from Wikipedia:

Joan wore men’s clothing between her departure from Vaucouleurs and her abjuration at Rouen. This raised theological questions in her own era and raised other questions in the twentieth century. The technical reason for her execution was a biblical clothing law [Deut. 22:5, “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God“]. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture.

Doctrinally speaking, she was safe to disguise herself as a page during a journey through enemy territory and she was safe to wear armor during battle. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field. Clergy who testified at her rehabilitation trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape. Preservation of chastity was another justifiable reason for crossdressing: her apparel would have slowed an assailant, and men would be less likely to think of her as a sex object in any case.

She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the matter during her condemnation trial. The Poitiers record no longer survives but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics approved her practice. In other words, she had a mission to do a man’s work so it was fitting that she dress the part. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle, as did Inquisitor Brehal during the Rehabilitation trial.

Joan may not be the patroness of the transgender community, but she does represent for me someone who transgressed gender norms to serve God and others, and who became a martyr for doing so. In this sense, she is my sister.

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1 Comment

[…] 28, 2008 at 10:07 pm · Filed under Meta I’ve recently updated the “About the Banner Image” page with a traditional prayer to St. Joan of Arc for faith.  It inspires me every time I […]


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