Orléans, located along the northern bend of the Loire River, at about 120 km of Paris, is the capital of the Loiret department and of the Centre-Val de Loire region. The origins of the city dates back to the Ancient Celts: then Cenabum was a Gallic stronghold of the Carnutes tribe and seat of the annual meeting of the Druids was conquered by Julius Caesar in 52 BC during the Gallic Campaign. The city was later rebuilt by Emperor Aurelian and renamed Aurelianum, or Aureliana Civitas (“city of Aurelian”), which later on evolved into Orléans.
Orléans is deeply linked to the figure of the French historical heroine who intervened in the history of France and of Orléans, and whose name will forever be associated with the city: Joan d’Arc (1412-1431 AD). Joan was born to a humble and pious peasant family in a little village in France in 1412. At that time France was engaged in a long-lasting war with England and its ally Burgundy: the “Hundred Years’ War”, which was lit by an inheritance dispute over the French throne. After the defeat at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415 AD, France was at its lowest point, being partly occupied by the English army and disputed by the Armagnac and Burgundian parties. Then there were even “three Frances”: Normandy, Picardie, Ile de France and Aquitaine under the English domination; Burgundy, Champagne and Flanders under the domination of Burgundy and, finally, the Kingdom of Bourges belonging to Charles VII, the uncrowned King of France. After the death of Henri V Plantagenet, the Duke of Bedford, who married the sister of the Duke of Burgundy, became the kingdom’s regent. He aimed to extend his territory and laid siege and occupied the towns of the Loire Valley.
At age 13 Joan had visions of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch telling her to help Charles VII to reconquer his kingdom. Joan managed to speak to Charles and at age 17 she was given a small army, which she led from one battle to another achieving success after success. In 1429 Orléans was besieged by the English forces. Although severely wounded, Joan led the French army to victory and freed the city, launching the Loire campaign which freed also Jargeau, Meung-sur-Loire and Beaugency from English rule. The city’s inhabitants have continued to remain faithful and grateful to her to this day, calling her “la pucelle d’Orléans” (the maid of Orléans), offering her a middle-class house in the city, and contributing to her ransom when she was taken prisoner.
Every year Orléans fervently celebrates its beloved heroine through a week-long event, the Fêtes Johanniques, that boasts a tradition stretching back over 500 years. At the crossroads of traditional civil, military and religious holidays the one of Joan of Arc is a unique event and contribute to the cultural influence of Orleans in France. Here, 501 years after her death, residents of Compiégne, the town Joan died to defend, honor their patron saint by dressing in period garb and celebrating her sacrifice.
Images by © Gervais Courtellemont/National Geographic Creative