Joan of Arc is one of those heroic figures that everyone has heard of, but few have stopped to reflect upon. It isn’t easy to sort through the facts and the legend, to reveal the teenage girl who heard the voices of angels in the forest, led an army to restore the French heir to the throne and drive away the English, was betrayed, sold for £10,000, sentenced to death at the stake, posthumously absolved and later canonised.
How to encapsulate all this? Happily, in a manner worthy of a medieval sorcerer, the city of Rouen’s new Historial de Jeanne d’Arc chronicles her life and times in three dimensions – as historical figure, myth and religious icon. In the 21st century, museums have moved on from the ‘objects inside a room’ approach into a full sensory experience. By utilising images projected against solid rock, sound and authentic medieval art, this museum recreates Jeanne’s epic life, to vivid effect.
Given that, over the centuries, the facts have blended with poetic license, the centre includes a ‘Mythothéque’ to reflect how the ascension of a young girl to the status of hero resonates across the world. Echoes of Jeanne can be found in the Chinese tale of Mulan, also a young girl dressed like a soldier who led an army to victory, or the myth of the golden fleece, regarding the restoration of rightful authority and kingship.
The significance of the venue adds an eerie level of authenticity as the Archbishop’s Palace – Rouen is still an active Roman Catholic archdiocese to this day – is the exact site where the darkest pages of Jeanne’s story unfolded. First came the notorious inquiry, shaming and martyrdom. Then a second trial, 25 years later, by request of her mother and popular clamour, which led to the annulment of the first verdict, the rehabilitation of Jeanne’s name and honour, and removed the ‘inconvenience’ of the stigma of witchcraft on the person who had restored the king to his throne.
One-hour visits of 25 visitors run continuously, the precise departure of each group synchronised to the venue’s multimedia devices. In order to avoid waiting you can simply reserve your desired time slot online and print out your ticket.
TIP: Just before you enter the ‘Mythothéque’, climb up to La Tour du Guet to enjoy a jaw-dropping 360-degree view. Rouen may be different from Jeanne’s time but from this perch the centuries are magically erased.
Historial de Jeanne d’Arc, 7 rue Saint-Romain, 7600 Rouen. Open daily 9.45am-7.45pm (last visit 6pm). Fridays & Saturdays until 8.45 p.m. (last visit 7pm). Closed Mondays. Entry is €9.50 (€16.00 with entrance to the Panorama XXL). Tel: +33 2 35 52 48 00
From France Today magazine