St. Joan of Arc is depicted in a stained-glass window at Queen of All Saints Church in Chicago. In the days following the June 6, 1944, D-Day landing of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy, France, CNS reported that the famed French city of Rouen, scene of the trial and death of St. Joan of Arc, was in the path of military forces. CNS photo/Gene Plaisted, the Crosiers

St. Joan of Arc is depicted in a stained-glass window at Queen of All Saints Church in Chicago. In the days following the June 6, 1944, D-Day landing of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy, France, CNS reported that the famed French city of Rouen, scene of the trial and death of St. Joan of Arc, was in the path of military forces. CNS photo/Gene Plaisted, the Crosiers

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON – Here is a dispatch from Rouen, France, some days after Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day June 6, 1944. It was written for the National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service, the forerunner to Catholic News Service. This article and many more are now available in CNS digitized archives at




Some fifty miles to the east of this left flank of our armies of liberation fighting In Normandy lies the famed city of Rouen, renowned for its marvels of religious architecture, home of dozens of Saints, and site of the trial and execution of St. Joan of Arc, great patron Saint of France and of her soldiers.

It will be fitting indeed if Rouen is among the first of the great cities of France to be freed from the Nazis. A little more than five centuries ago St. Joan, the Maid of Orleans, battled to liberate her people and her land from foreign oppression. From that day to this she has remained the spiritual leader of the armies of France.

During the first World War, here and there all along the battlefront, her loyal sons erected log chapels in her memory. Doubtless, if they can, they will yet do the same in this greater and more significant struggle.

Rouen is as yet outside the actual field of battle. But the time of its liberation may not be far distant – and will not be far distant if the spirit of St. Joan of Arc assists and leads our armies in delivering France from the grip of the oppressor. In dying, St, Joan apostrophised the city, saying: "Rouen, Rouen, must I die here!"


The Diocese of Rouen is famous as the site where many Saints and noted Catholics lived or died. Among them are St. Mellon, said to be the first Bishop of Rouen, St. Avitianus, St. Severus, St. Victricius, all of whom lived in the fourth century; St. John Baptist de la Salle, who founded the Christian Brothers; Fontanelle, the noted French philosopher; Cavelier de la Salle, explorer of the Mississippi Valley, and many others.

It Is to be hoped that Rouen can be spared the horrors of war, as Rome was, because of its many monuments of the past. No other city of France has such marvels of religious architecture. The oldest part of the Cathedral of Rouen dates from 1160. The Church of St. Ouen is one of the rare examples in France of a large beautiful, fourteenth-century church, and is among the delicate architectural triumphs of Europe. The Church of St. Maclou dates from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Allied troops are reported to have captured the town of Bayeux, mecca of tourists in days of peace, chiefly because of its 700-year-old Cathedral, one of the famous landmarks of Normandy, and the Bayeux Tapestry, which ranks high among Europe's works of art. One of the most remarkable pieces of needlework in existence, the tapestry, 230 feet long and 30 inches wide, it depicts in 58 scenes the invasion of England by the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror. On this account it is said to have been exhibited throughout France by Napoleon I to win the support of the people for his planned invasion of England.


Bayeux, a town of about 8,000 inhabitants, is the see city of the Diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux. The tower of the Cathedral dominates the countryside, rising from among history-caressed houses of timber and brick. Many of these houses date from the fifteenth century, imparting an old Norman flavor to the town. Bayeux is about six miles inland from the English Channel and 16 miles northwest of Caen, where fierce fighting is in progress.

Caen, the capital of the Department of Calvados, is situated at the confluence of the Orne and Odon rivers, some 10 miles inland from the English Channel. With a population of nearly 40,000 and its many imposing churches and other edifices, its fine promenades, public squares and sculptural monuments, Caen is one of the most impressive smaller cities of Western Europe. Heavy fighting has been in progress in and about the city, which has been reported in flames. Southwest of the Diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux, on the peninsula that has the great port of Cherbourg at its tip, is the Diocese of Coutances, the area of which was devastated in the 100 Years' War, brought to a close by the mission of St. Joan. She did not live to see this part of her beloved France finally liberated.


Coutances, the see city, with a population of about 7,000, is seven miles from the English Channel and 41 miles from the port of Cherbourg. It has a splendid medieval cathedral and several other handsome churches. In this diocese, at the Conde-sur-Vire, St. Jean de Brebeuf, one of the Jesuit martyrs of North America, was born. The world famous Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, near which St. Joan of Arc passed on her desolate journey as a prisoner of war on the way to the city of Rouen, also lies nearby, off the coast of Normandy, in the Diocese of Coutances.

On the summit a great rock, 160 feet high, the abbey has been constructed in a remarkable pyramidal form and dedicated to St. Michel the Archangel, "captain of the heavenly host." His was the principal voice that spoke to St. Joan of Arc, and on a number of occasions, as she tells us, she was favored with appearances of the Archangel.

Passing near the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, St. Joan expressed a wish to visit it and pray in the chapel, but was prevented by her captors.

St. Joan was only 13 when, in the summer of 1425, she became aware of what she called her "voices" or her "council." Later, as she said, she was able to see clearly St. Michael, St. Margaret, St. Catherine and others, who guided her in the great task God had set before her.


So gradually was the call of God made known to her that it was not until 1428 that she was convinced that she must lead the french armies against the invaders of her land and the hostile forces of Burgandes. For a long time she resisted, saying, "I am a poor girl: I do not know how to ride or fight," only to hear her voice responded, "It is God who commands it."

But she offered her services to the commander of King Charles' forces, and by means of prophecies and signs finally led them to believe in her mission. Thereafter, under her inspired leadership, the French won a series of important victories, despite the apathy of the French king and leaders in following up the advantages Joan won for them.

In 1429 Joan was captured by the enemy through a mischance, and in Rouen on May 30, 1431, was burned at the stake after a political trial, a trial conducted without reference to the Pope and indeed, as the Catholic Encyclopedia writer says, "in defiances of Blessed Joan's appeal to the head of the Church."

Twenty-four years later a revision of her trial was opened with the consent of the Holy See. In 1909 she was declared "blessed" and in 1923 was canonized.

Editor's Note: N.C.W.C. NEWS SERVICE stories from 1920 to 1976 are now available in the CNS online archives, which are open to the public: