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Saint Rémy de Provence: Joan of Arc.

By Danié Gómez-Ortigoza

July 20, 2020

Saint Remy de Provence is one of the oldest towns in France. The medieval style of construction with irregular walls are proof of this. I arrive to the Eglise Cathollique Collegial Saint Martin, an ancient church where the first thing that stands out is the Virgin of Fatima, on a very large pedestal of porous stones. The domes in the roof are a beautiful shade of blue worn by time, giving a feeling of impermanence. They are a reminder that our existence is limited.

Suddenly I found a figure of Joan of Arc in front of the names and surnames of those who died for France in this town. This is something that exists throughout French territory as a reminder of those painful days. The repetition of surnames reveals entire families who lost their men in the war. It makes me think of how when the military draft began, emotion reigned in the villages: finally a way to get out and excel.

Even boys as young as 16-years old, lied about their age not to miss out on the opportunity to fight for their homeland: to experience the world of adults. Of weapons. They ran away from home to take part on it; many of them were children who barely had grown a beard. The emotion did not last long. It ended as soon as they experienced the trenches.

World War II was different. By then, the harsh reality of the First World War was known. Cities and towns were left without men and women were left without families. And in this particular church, there is a special contrast between those names and the statuette of Joan of Arc, martyr of history who had visions that cannot be explained, and yet saved France when everything seemed lost in the war against the English.

Joan of Arc is one of those characters that make us believe that there is a metaphysical world that we know very little about, and that makes us think about the presence of celestial forces. It’s interesting that such power, or knowledge does not mix well with the real world. We do not understand it. And like everything we do not understand, we eliminate it.

To explain her visions, historians have spoken about epilepsy, migraines, and unpasteurized milk. All this to remove any vestige of her visions, which were heard only because there was no more hope.

We destroy everything we do not understand. They burned her. It is said that not once, but three times, by the same institution that canonized her, and now venerates her.

Hence, it is a national symbol that has accompanied French soldiers since World War II, after being canonized in 1920.

So much faith has been given to the church. How much damage has been done in the name of God through his authoritarianism.

I spent many years wanting to believe in the Church. Today I am a fervent believer in God, but my God is not like the one the church told me about. Incredible to think that by simply saying something like this, not that long ago I would have gone through the same fate that Joan of Arc did But let’s go back to the tour.

We left the church, and walked through the town enjoying the small shops between design clothes and art. The old labels catch my attention: those that announce what is no longer there, but remain as witnesses to what was. It is also worth going through the Roman ruins as a reminder that there are still many stories to explore.

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