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A rehabilitated symbol?
A rehabilitated symbol?
Clarisse Fabre

ROUEN — Coming out of the train station, the rue Jeanne d'Arc, a wide street along the river Seine in this northern French city, leads us straight to the Jeanne d'Arc bridge. And between the two, we pass many signs evoking the young warrior's name: a cafe named "Jeanne d'Arc," a church, of course, even an estate agent's sign solidly attached to the gate of a private mansion.

Historian Olivier Bouzy even says that a grill restaurant once dared to establish itself on the Vieux-Marché square, where Joan of Arc was burned alive in 1431. But beyond these nods to the young woman's legacy, what remains in the collective imagination are the National Front's efforts to use her as an ideological symbol of the fight against "foreign invasion."

But the Norman city seems to have woken up from a long sleep. Rouen is raising its flags and is determined to reclaim Joan of Arc from the extreme-right party's grasp. On March 20, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius inaugurated the Joan of Arc History Museum (Historial Jeanne d'Arc) in the heart of the city's Archbishop's Palace, a medieval site with Norman crypts that was nicely renovated for the occasion.

The History Museum recounts Joan of Arc's epic. There's the story that everybody knows: that of the young pious girl born in 1412 who heard voices from the age of 13 and saw the future King Charles VII putting her in charge of an army, leading to the siege of Orléans being lifted in 1429, liberating the city from the English, before she was arrested and accused of being a heretic.


But the museum also takes visitors through the twists and turns of the investigation that led to Joan of Arc's conviction in Rouen before she died on the Vieux-Marché square, on May 30 1431, at the age of 19. The museum also has the remains of the so-called "Officiality" room where her conviction was pronounced, and where her rehabilitation trial took place in 1456.

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