History contends that the ashes of Saint Joan of Arc were gathered up from the pyre on which she was burned alive and tossed into the River Seine.
Anxious to avoid creating a martyr, the English, who had ordered her death in 1431, wanted nothing left of the 19-year-old French heroine. According to legend, however, a devoted follower managed to find and conceal some of her remains, including fragments of charred rib and material from clothing, that today are one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most precious relics.
Now DNA tests are to be carried out on the Pucelle d’Orleans (the Maid of Orleans), who was killed 575 years ago for being a heretic and a witch after she claimed voices from God had told her to drive the English from France.
Philippe Charlier, a genetic specialist at the Raymond-Pointcare hospital at Garches, west of Paris, said the tests would solve the mystery over the relic.
”The remains include fragments of ribs, material, wood and traces of human body tissues on pieces of bone and wood from the pyre,” he said.
Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, but because her heart remained intact her remains were cremated on two more occasions before being thrown in the river. ”Today we can give medical reasons for why the heart, lungs and intestines might not have burned, but in those days it was considered a miracle,” said Dr Charlier. ”They burned the remains twice more as they were determined there should be nothing left.”
He added: ”We won’t be able to say, ‘Yes, this is Joan of Arc’, but within six months we will able to say if these remains belong to a female of 19 years old whose body was burned three times in Rouen in 1431.” — Ã‚