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      February 2012 > Cycling in the Loire with the Maid of Orléans

Cycling in the Loire with the Maid of Orléans

Joan of Arc statue in OrleansShe was born in an unexceptional village in north-eastern France 600 years ago; an illiterate peasant’s daughter, who went on to influence kings, lead victorious armies and become one of the most celebrated patron saints of France.

England and France were in the midst of the Hundred Years War at the beginning of the fifteenth century – sorry, but I needed to remind myself of the situation at the time – with Henry VI of England fighting to retain his lands across the Channel against the uncrowned Charles VII, the Dauphin (or heir) of France (who was actually Henry’s uncle). (Dauphin means ‘dolphin’ from the insignia he bore on his flag).

All was going well for Henry until Joan burst onto the scene, impelled by the word of God to lead France to victory.

At Chinon – where there is one of the region’s many Jeanne d'Arc museums – this plucky 17-year-old persuaded Charles to give her an army and off she went to face Henry. At Blois, she had her standard blessed by the local priest and crossed the River Loire on her way to relieve the city of Orléans which had been besieged by the English for months. Against the odds, she was successful and broke the siege, celebrating in the cathedral of Sainte-Croix. The cathedral's stained glass windows now depict the story of Joan.

From this base, she ‘liberated’ several small towns from the English including Meung-sur-Loire and Beaugency, before being captured by the Burgundians. As in most wars, who was on which side is not always clear cut and the France we know today comprised a series of Dukedoms. Many Frenchmen preferred English rule to that of the weak Charles – they had more to gain. Indeed, Charles made no effort to get her back and she was sold to the English who sent her to Rouen for trial.

Historic BeaugencyCharges of waging war failed to get her convicted and sentenced to death (which appears to be what both sides wanted) but she was successfully tried for heresy – she dressed as a man on the battlefield, allegedly to make her less noticeable, and this transvesticism was deemed heretical in the eyes of God.

She met her gruesome end – burnt at the stake – on 30 May 1431 and was buried in Rouen. Despite becoming a national hero soon after her death, it wasn't until 1920 that the Catholic Church canonized St Joan.

Take to two wheels and you can explore the picturesque rolling landscapes of the ‘Land of Kings’ visiting many of the places mentioned above where Joan’s exploits took place – explore historic Orléans, wander round the charming fortified village of Meung-sur-Loire, enjoy a leisurely lunch in a quiet, leafy square in the heart of the old town of Beaugency – and discover, also, some of the region’s most magnificent châteaux at Chambord, Chaumont-sur-Loire (below), Cheverney, Beauregarde and Blois.

To make your cycling holiday in the Loire & Sologne all the more special this year, there are a number of festivals, concerts and exhibitions taking place in the region to celebrate the life of Joan of Arc. Orléans, for example, has a week-long festival of medieval markets, street parades and concerts running from the end of April through to May. Click here for further details and dates, or contact the Loire Valley Tourist Board.
Chaumont sur Loire

Posted: 23/02/2012 12:15:24 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: cycling, festivals, France, heritage

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