August 7, 2020
The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.
Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.
FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
In a city filled with monuments to America’s presidents, generals, soldiers, and statesmen, a statue to a French teenager might seem out of place. But the Joan of Arc Memorial in Washington, D.C. pays tribute to a fascinating story of courage and faith that Americans have long admired.
Joan of Arc was born in Arc, France in 1412. When she was 13, she believed she heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret telling her to fight for France during the Hundred Years War. Joan answered the call, helping the French drive the English from Orleans in 1429. During the battle, she was captured by the Burgundians and tried in a French ecclesiastical court that had pro-English sympathies. After a sham trial, she was convicted of heresy and deemed a witch by the counsel. In 1431, she was burned at the stake—when she was only 19 years old.
The first memorial to Joan of Arc was erected in Orleans, France in 1456. Today, there are 22 memorials and statues of Joan of Arc worldwide; five are in the United States. Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C. is home to one of the five. The D.C. memorial was erected in 1889, and is an exact replica of the “Jeanne d’Arc” statue that stands outside the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims in France. Sculptor Paul Dubois (1829-1905) designed both statues.
D.C.’s Joan of Arc statue stands a little over four feet tall and 11 feet wide. Joan is mounted on her horse in full armor. While there are other memorials to women in our nation’s capital, the Joan of Arc Memorial is the only equestrian statue of a woman and the only statue that depicts a woman going into battle.
Joan’s right hand is raised and holding her drawn sword; her left hand holds the reins of her horse. The visor of her helmet is open, and her eyes gaze heavenward. The sword is five feet long and weighs 30 pounds. Vandals have stolen the sword on multiple occasions, most recently in September 2016. The sword was replaced, and the memorial was rededicated in March 2018.
The bronze statue rests on a three-tiered granite pedestal engraved with the words “Aux Femmes d’Amérique Les Femmes de France,” which means, “To the Women of America, The Women of France.” The statue was gifted to the United States by a group of women known as the Society of French Women of New York—Le Lyceum Societie des Femmes de France—and was dedicated to the women of the United States. President and Mrs. Harding and Ambassador Jules Jusserand of France attended the memorial’s dedication on January 6, 1922.
Carlo Polifeme, the president of the Society of French Women of New York, officially dedicated the memorial, and Mrs. George Maynard Minor, president of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), unveiled the statue on behalf of the women of the United States. Ambassador Jusserand presented a medal from France to Polifeme for her work towards getting the statue erected in Washington, D.C.
Memorials commemorating the life of Joan of Arc, including the one in D.C., represent the legacy of a young woman’s devout faith, obedience, and courage. Although she was young, she was bold. Christians can learn three lessons while reflecting on the life of Joan of Arc and her memorial in Meridian Hill Park.
First, we can be encouraged that our abilities, age, or experience are not what qualifies us for the work God intends for us to do. This is the encouragement Paul gave to his protégé Timothy when he said, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Joan did not shrink back from the dangers of war, rather she led the French army to battle, even though she knew it could cost her life. Likewise, Christians should not shrink back from the callings God has on our lives, even if we “feel” unqualified.
Second, the Joan of Arc statue depicts her with her helmet’s visor open and her eyes looking toward heaven. Christians are called to keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Christians are called to have our focus on Christ and not the fears that threaten to overwhelm us. Just as Joan is portrayed looking up to heaven, we, too, must look up as we prepare to contend for the faith.
Finally, the monument depicts Joan’s horse in a full charge into battle. Even though she may have been afraid, Joan did not back down when the battle raged. By depicting Joan with her sword drawn, the memorial communicates her courage. In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul speaks of putting on the full armor of God. Christians must always be prepared for the battles of life, but, like Joan, we must keep our focus on the Lord, who will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).