Loire Valley, France: In Search of Joan of Arc
We went in search of this French icon while in the Loire Valley and it’s not hard to find her: in Loches, in Chinon, and here in Ste-Catherine de Ferbois, a small village a few km north of St Maure on N10, that’s very evocative of the Maid of Orleans.
We arrived in Ste-Catherine de Ferbois at lunchtime. Lunchtime is an institution in France, so things are very quiet, as the villagers all go home for their meal. It was fine for us, as we parked and strolled around the village drowsing in the sunshine. The village is just off the N10 road, so the through road doesn’t pass through it (not any more anyway), but its narrow main road winds through the middle. We saw the tiny fire station (pompiers d’incendie) just off the square, and a large ornamented manor house/small chateau locked behind its locked gate. We wondered what its history is.
The village is famous because of the Eglise Ste- Catherine (burnt down in 1440 but re-built by 1480). Here, Jeanne d’Arc came to mass (in 1429) in the original building, and she allegedly found her liberator sword behind the altar. A plaque in the Gothic Church pays homage to Jeanne la Pucelle (Joan the Virgin), who defeated the English thanks to that sword engraved with five holy crosses.
The stone church is on one end of a narrow square, dominated by a statue of Joan, with the Mairie (Town Hall) and a small museum, on one side (immaculate public toilets behind it) and other old buildings, one of which is an auberge (inn) now. The auberge has a good menu with lunch served between 12-2pm. Sitting outside on the small patio with a leisurely pichet (1/2L) of local red wine—tangy, and served cool—we could relax and watch the rhythm of the village: people slowly emerging around 3pm, walking to the tabac or La Poste (only open 2-5pm); a couple with a stroller coming to buy an icecream; and two local worker appearing in a little open truck to put up a new “Place Jeanne d’Arc” sign.
The square and its buildings are not much changed from that time, and we felt as though we were living in history.
The church is old, not very big, and quite austere inside except for a couple of lovely stained-glass windows. Its significance lies in what happened there, rather than on how it actually looks. As we sipped our wine at the auberge next door, watched over by her statue, we tried to imagine Jeanne d’Arc coming here, perhaps on a horse, walking in this same square, entering through that arched stone doorway just to our right. We wondered what the villagers thought at that time: did they want to touch her, were they excited?
This year, the 600th anniversary of her birth, many people are having the same thoughts.