Joan of Arc heard voices and saw “ladies” (that she identified as Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine), near a tree where curious phenomena had been occurring for a long time.

In the XIVth Century, in Champagne, there is a charming little village on the banks of a river of clear water where bleaks and barbels play.  The houses with low rooves which surround the church are not numerous:  ten, at most, the inhabitants of which are fun-loving peasants who like good wine, live simply in God’s grace, cultivating their lands, leading their flocks to the fields and rhythming their days on the Angelus of the morning and the Angelus of the evening…  They are all friendly, straight-talking people, who look healthy and bright-eyed.

Sometimes, enemy troops traverse the countryside.  As soon as they are in view, the curate rings the bells and everyone runs to take refuge, with the animals, in the Ile Castle, built in the middle of the river and belonging to Sieur Bourlemont.

The danger over, the men return to the fields and the women return home to relight the fires and prepare the soup.

Apart from its old castle, this little village possesses nothing which could retain anyone’s attention.  Except a tree.  An extraordinary tree.  It can be found barely half a league from the church, on a little slope at the edge of an oak wood.  It is a beech.  A beech so great, so noble, so marvellous that the good people of the countryside who have travelled, those who have walked the roads or the tracks as far as Troyes, Saint-Dizier and even Chalons-sur-Marne, say that it is the most beautiful one in the world…

It is called the Beau May, and l’Arbre des Dames, or l’Arbre-aux-Fees.  And strange stories are told about it.  It is said that it is haunted and that Lady Fairies meet there.  Some even claim to have seen them and heard them speak.  Which surprises no-one, given that it is of public knowledge that Sir Pierre Granier, Knight of Bourlemont, goes regularly beneath the great beech to meet a fairy and have a conversation with her there.

Some go as far as saying, lowering their voices and making the sign of the cross, that these conversations are sometimes accompanied by a “love commerce”…

But all of the village fairies do not have such flighty comportment.  Most of them are Good Ladies who are invited to baptisms and for whom a table is set in the room next to that of the new mother.  As it is said that they are easily irritated, care is taken not to disturb them or to frighten them with too great a noise.  They then give thanks with a song or a little miracle.

Are these enchanting ladies good or bad genies?  No-one, if the truth be told, could say;  but neither their existence nor the prodigies that they accomplish are contested.  Even by the parishioners who miss neither Mass nor Vespers.  Religion and the fairy world, at this time when people with pure hearts live up to their necks in the marvellous, intimately, tightly intermingle, like branches and the coils of the vine.  To the point that the inhabitants of the village have baptised a fountain near the marvellous tree:  La Fontaine-aux-Bonnes-Fees-Notre-Seigneur

Each year, on the Sunday of loetare – that is to say the Sunday which follows the Thursday of mid-Lent – the young men and young girls of the village, led by Lord de Bourlemont and his Lady, go to honour the Beau May.

The village of Domremy and its castle where, in the XIVth Century, Sieur de Bourlemont, its lord, is said to have strange meetings with “white ladies” at the foot of the Fairy Tree…

The first to arrive decorate it with garlands of flowers.  Then, boys and girls, crowned with daffodils, take each other by the hand and form a circle while singing.  To this circle, succeeds a wild farandol under the branches of the tree, where the Lady Fairies remain hidden, silent and invisible.  After which, Lady de Bourlemont has distributed hard-boiled eggs, bread, little cakes in the shape of the moon, and jars of wine.

After this picnic, a sort of mannequin is fashioned from vegetation which is then carried ritually around the tree to celebrate Spring and thank the Ladies of Light for their kindness.

When evening falls, everyone returns home after a little detour to the sacred fountain of the Bonnes-Fees-Notre-Seigneur where each person must drink a few drops of miraculous water.

That is the end of the Sunday of loetare, half-christian half-fairytale.  But many other ritual festivals unfold in this village, to which the fairies are naturally connected.

For example, on the first day of May, before Dawn, the young men go to cut a few branches of the beautiful beech and bring them back very mysteriously, and silently attach them in front of the houses where there are young, unmarried girls.  When the girls open their doors and discover the branches of the Arbre-aux-Fees, they know that they are loved and that the Good Ladies will soon give them a fiance…

Finally, the fairies, it is said, have, in their goodness, hidden a mandragora under the great tree where they meet.  And everybody well knows that this mysterious and magical plant whose root, in the shape of a human body, bleeds and screams when it is ripped out of the ground, can bring a fortune to the one who dares to dig it up…

This strange, fairytale village where, as far back as the XIVth Century, the peasants hear bizarre things under the trees, this village where it is said that Ladies of the Light sometimes appear under a giant beech and where the Lord of the place has conversations with a fairy, this village is called Domremy…

And it is there that, one hundred years later, Jeanne d’Arc would be born, and it is there, in this fairytale village , that she would hear, one day, strange voices…

***

Domremy is situated near the border between Champagne and the Barrois.  Therefore, Jeanne d’Arc was either Champenoise or Barroise, but she was absolutely not from Lorraine as is often said.

***

It is also said that she was a shepherdess, which is false.  She had never guarded sheep, unless it was totally accidentally.  She became Lorraine because of Francois Villon who wrote:

Et Jeanne la bonne Lorraine…

He probably did it because he needed something ending in “aine” for his rhyme.

***

To be continued.

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