Blogging the Age of Faith

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Joan of Arc Relics

Joan of Arc Relics Are Actually Egypt Mummy Remains, Research Reveals
Kate Ravilious

for National Geographic News

April 4, 2007
The charred bones that were long believed to be remains of St. Joan of Arc don't belong to the French heroine but are instead the remains of an Egyptian mummy, a new study has shown.

Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist at the Raymond Poincaré Hospital in Paris, France, obtained permission last year to study the relics from the church in Normandy where they are housed.

The relics were said to have been retrieved from the French site where Joan was burned at the stake in 1431.

Charlier's team studied the relics—including a fragment of cloth and a human rib—under the microscope and subjected them to chemical tests.

Close inspection of the human rib showed that it had not been burned but may have been heated to create a blackened crust on the surface, Charlier said.

Meanwhile the fragment of linen cloth had a coating characteristic of mummy wrappings and contained large amounts of pine pollen.

"Pine resin was widely used in Egypt during embalming," Charlier explained, adding that pine trees did not grow in Normandy during Joan of Arc's time.

Final proof came from carbon-14 analysis, which dated the human remains to between the third and sixth centuries B.C.

Chemical scans of all the relics further suggested Egypt as the place of origin, as the profiles closely matched those of Egyptian mummies rather than burned bones.

"We were astonished to find [the bone] came from a mummy," he said.

Smelling the Evidence

In his analysis of the artifacts Charlier also used the rather unusual tactic of employing leading "noses" from the perfume industry.

"We wanted a professional nose to confirm the smell [of the relics] and identify what molecules [the smells] might be," Charlier said.

During blind smell tests, professional perfumers Sylvaine Delacourte and Jean-Michel Duriez each identified the aromas of burned plaster and vanilla when given samples of the relics.

The scent of burned plaster is consistent with Joan having been burned on a plaster stake, but the vanilla doesn't fit, Charlier explained.

"Vanilla usually indicates an embalming process," he said.

Anastasia Tsaliki, an expert in ancient diseases at Britain's University of Durham, said she was impressed with Charlier's detective work.

"It is a fascinating project and shows how forensic methods can be combined with tools used in archaeometry [the study of archaeological materials] and archaeobotany [the study of ancient plants] and osteology [the study of bones]," she told the journal Nature.

Joan's life in France was short but eventful.

Late in the Hundred Years' War—fought between France and England from 1337 to 1453—she claimed to hear voices from God telling her to recover her homeland from the English.

After many battles against the English she was captured, and in 1431 was burned at the stake in the French city of Rouen under the orders of an English duke (see map of France).

The putative relics surfaced in 1867 in a jar in the attic of a Paris pharmacy. They were labelled "Remains found under the stake of Joan of Arc, virgin of Orleans" and were officially recognized by the Vatican as being authentic.

The site where the relics were supposedly discovered gives Charlier a clue as to who might have created the elaborate fake.

"I think [the relic] was made during the 19th century, probably by a chemist or pharmacist," Charlier said.


  • At 8:14 AM, Anonymous kisstheconcrete said…

    When I read the Jesus foreskin blog I didn't think that it was truly Jesus' foreskin. We've constantly discussed relics in class and I think we've all had doubts about the truth to the relics. This blog about the relics of Joan of Arc reinforces those doubts. How're it appears to have helped the people associated with these times to believe in them, even though the relics where something that they couldn't prove had any significance. This is where faith is required. People believe in God, but yet can't physically see him. Some people would argue stupidity, but I think it takes more strength to believe in something you can't prove without a shadow of a doubt. The faith required for religion and relics is what makes them so beautiful.

    Believing in these relics seems almost insane, but even if the sources of them are false the belief in them still doesn’t do any harm. It’s almost like kids believing in Santa. Even though Santa isn’t real he is still associated with goodness and miracles and the belief in him created so much excitement. If nothing else the presence of relics, false or not, enhances spirits.

  • At 8:41 PM, Blogger bcpcguy said…

    Nothing gives me more joy than to read about an elaborate misconception about ancient relics! Since we began discussing the general idea and uses for the various relics that were collected by people, I have always been a little confused about just what made these people believe that the relics were so special. I realize that I may have a differing opinion, but it has always been my perception that our faith can bring us just as close to God as some fingernail, piece of foreskin, or bottle of ashes.

    I would also like to respond to a statement made by “kisstheconcrete.” I, too, firmly believe that faith is the most crucial element when one believes in God. To me, that is the driving force behind Christianity; believing even though we cannot physically see or understand. I can understand how some might argue that it seems silly and somewhat juvenile to just accept some of the questionable components of the faith, but, in my opinion, that is where the real strength lies. It is easy for someone to believe in something that they can see and touch, but it takes something more to believe in something that is not of this world.

  • At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What really boggles me is how far people will go to get a relic, right down to figuring out who took Jesus's foreskin. The fact of the matter is, the society is so caught up in this pseudo-relic craze that anyone could bring something up and call it "someone's something" and it sends all sorts of people spending time and money figuring out its origin and whether or not it is real. There are so many of us who need such concrete evidence before we believe anything. At the same time, though, so many are worried about being led blindly in the wrong direction. We have sects of people fighting over small details in the bible, and in religion in general, so people need concrete evidence of what to follow before they follow it. That's the only problem about why many people have to see something to believe it, is because there's so much disagreement on what to believe.
    Granted, it would be nice to be able to just have faith, but with so many telling each other who's wrong and who's right, what do we have faith in: the true meaning of the religion we follow? Or the people we trust in to lead us to their version of enlightenment?
    We want a relic to give us a feeling of connection to God, but it also can backfire if people feel a false sense of security by it. For the same reason that some believe that they can just repent for what they did and that makes it ok, people could use the artifact as a "special" connection that makes them better suited to pray to a higher power.

  • At 6:52 PM, Anonymous bittersweetaddiction said…

    Relics throughout the Middle Ages are a important link to God through a physical tangeble object. This has been reiterated over and over in everyone’s mindset who has taken Age of Faith. I am just wondering if the relics were held in such a high reguard, I would think that people would be slightly more inclined to make sure the right relics get to its final homage spot where it can be honored and respected. And the 2nd thing that I’m a little thrown off by is the mummy bones. Why? How did those get there? It’s not like someone just randomly misplaced their mummy bones to be confused with Joan’s. They came from Egypt, so it doesn’t seem like an accident that there would be a mix up between the 2. Also I think the Vatican maybe should have kept Joan’s Bones a little more under lock and key to make sure they had the right set before they officially branded their seal of approval on them. Sometimes I just don’t know what to think about the Vatican and their decisions to be honest. They are supposed to be infallible, yet in some cases they are clearly wrong. Unless you chose to believe something along the lines that Joan’s Bones were transcended into heaven, leaving the next best thing…mummy bones to fill the void of where hers should be. But I guess some people will believe just about anything they hear.

  • At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This article gives me less of a reason to believe in relics! When our class first began discussing relics, I tried to grasp the concept with an open mind. Now after reading so many articles, that include artifacts, or relics, that have been proclaimed as something of meaning, and then later been discovered as something not even close to what they were thought to be in the first place.

    The quote made by Charlier at the end of the article stating, "I think the relic was made during the 19th century, probably by a chemist or pharmicist," truly makes since considering the remains were found in a jar in a Paris pharmacy!

    In my opinion, I do not believe that relics are an important and essential part of religion. Praying to a pile of bones is not going to magically make your situation better. I do not think that those bones have the power that God has. In other words, to me, it seems as though you are wasting your time by praying to these so-said powerful relics when you could be praying and asking for guidance from an all-powerful God.

  • At 2:53 PM, Anonymous catface1 said…

    Well I guess this is another reason why relics are an unreliable and, in my opinion should not be used to symbolize one’s faith. Many “relics” have been disproved and once people have placed all of their faith on them their religious views may shatter or at the least lead them to question their beliefs. For these bones to have been deemed a “relic” seems unfair to the other real religious artifacts that have been proven to really be what they claim, and it takes away from their authenticity. Relics are totally unreliable and based on very shady facts. To quote the statement “The relics were said to have been retrieved from the French site where Joan was burned at the stake in 1431", yet there was no reliable source to confirm or deny this observation, and it didn’t take much to disprove the “relic” and show it to be a phony. That carbon 14 analysis that was recently done “sealed the deal” but even beforehand the observations of the use of pine resin and even the unorthodox method of using “smellers” to detect the scent should have sent up a red flag and the bones should have been quickly removed from their place of religious honor and tested further earlier.
    When the stakes are so high as to determine or prod forward ones faith, I would hope that the people in charge of authenticating the artifacts would pay closer attention to the smaller details to ensure that the artifact is in fact a relic and not just some old bones and foreskin.

  • At 9:24 AM, Anonymous lovelikewinter said…

    I'm going to be honest, I think relics are a crazy idea. When we started discussing them in class, I was really hesitant. Through discussion I realized relics meant a lot to a lot of people. These are the only means they have of "becoming closer" to their religion or religious figures.

    What ever happened to just having faith? My faith has always taught me that God is omnipresent so I believe relics are useless. If I need to be closer to God than what I already am I will pray to Him instead of going crazy over a relic because I know in the end that if I believe with my heart then I am fine.

    I think this entry raises a very valid point. How do we know if a relic is a "true relic"? Do we have DNA from most of these religious folks? In some cases all we can do is carbon date the samples. Even that would have its faults. The relic could date back to the same time period but the sample could have easily come from anyone back then.

  • At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Joan of Arc is always an interesting person to read about. This may be juvenile and embarrassing but I never knew why she was considered a saint. I know she was a hero, and I am guessing she was made a saint because of her claim that God told her to go and save her people. I could be wrong, but going with that I would have to say that the choosing of saints by the catholic church is an interesting and sometimes ridiculous process. Of course I can understand, St. Paul, St. Peter, but St. Joan of Arc? I am not so sure about that one. As far as relics go I have always found religious relics to be an odd idea and to believe someone when they tell you its authentic is very naive. I am not trying to knock people's faith or anything, however I think they have more of a faith in man rather than a faith in God, if they need relics to justify their religious practices or enhance their spiritual life.


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