By Clifford Allen
History of Medicine, vol. 6 (1975)
Introduction: A great many of the tragedies of the past must have been caused by mental disease which was undetected and misunderstood. Such a case may well have been that of Joan of Arc.
She was born in the village of Domredy near Vaucouleurs, on the border of Champagne, on January 6th, 1412. Her parents were poor, but she was brought up religiously and frequently went to church and confession. In fact, she was teased by other young people for her piousness. Her father was strict but nothing seems to have been known of her mother.
Childhood appears to have been normal until as she says, “I was in my thirteenth year when God sent a voice to guide me. At first I was very frightened. The voice came towards the hour of noon, in the summer in my father’s garden. I had fasted the previous day. I heard the voice on my right hand in the direction of the church. I seldom hear it without seeing a light. The light always appears on the side from which I hear the voice.”
She was convinced that the voice was that of Archangel Michael. Afterwards Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine appeared to her as well as the Archangel, an impression which continued most of the rest of her life and she heard the voices even when she was later confined to prison.
Joan was completely convinced regarding these apparitions and nothing would alter her opinion. On the other hand she was determined not to say too much about them: she believed firmly that she had heard, touched and even smelled them. This did not occur on one occasion but almost daily for hundreds of times over a period of seven years. Finally she preferred the terrible death of the stake rather than make a confession that they did not exist, which might have saved her life.