New Orleans Honors Joan of Arc on the Occasion of Its Tricentennial

Throughout most of the world, January marks the end of the holiday season. Down come the Christmas wreaths and trees, cast to the curb to make way for New Year’s resolutions and fresh beginnings. Yet in New Orleans, people simply trade red and green for purple, green and gold, as Mardi Gras officially begins January 6, Twelfth Night, also known as the Feast of the Epiphany.

January 6 has yet another meaning for New Orleanians. It is also the birthday of Joan of Arc, the city’s unofficial patron saint. And in true New Orleans fashion, her “anniversaire” is celebrated with a parade that recognizes the city’s French heritage—and the fortuitous collision of the start of Carnival with the start of Joan’s life. But this parade is not about plastic beads and lighted floats. Ten years ago, Amy Kirk had a vision to honor Joan of Arc with a parade like no other. Members of the ”krewe” don handcrafted costumes and share “throws” representative of the Maid of Orleans. From angels, butterflies and fire-throwers to matchbooks, coins and wooden swords, paraders illustrate Joan’s sainthood in an authentic way- almost a parade of theater rather than the typical “throw me something, mister” pleas from the usual parade watchers.

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As with traditional Mardi Gras parades, the Krewe de Jeanne d’ Arc boasts a king and queen, as well as Joan in various stages of her young life. Queen Yolande d’ Aragon holds a special place in my heart as I was selected to be the first queen in 2013.  Joan of Arc aficionados will tell you that if it had not been for Queen Yolande d’ Aragon, Joan’s place in history may have been lost. Queen Yolande, who is said to have been the most powerful woman in France in the 15th century, is best known for having secretly funded Joan’s army. What is, indeed, curious, is that Yolande reared Charles VII as her own son, taking him under her care at age 11; in fact, he affectionately referred to her as his “bonne mère.”

If you think political machinations today are manipulative, this French Queen was nothing less than masterful. The relationship between Yolande and Charles was a strategic move on Yolande’s part, paving the way for her own daughter to eventually marry Charles VII, a further indication of Yolande’s influence. It is largely because of the political genius of Yolande that France was saved from England, and that we will celebrate the 300th birthday of the City of New Orleans, embodying its French culture, in 2018.

On Saturday, January 6, the 10th annual Joan of Arc Parade begins at 6:00 p.m. at the corner of Toulouse and Decatur Streets. At approximately 6:15 pm, dignitaries will toast the parade royalty at the Historic New Orleans’ Collection’s Perrilliat Building, 400 Chartres Street.  Event speakers will include THNOC Executive Director Priscilla Lawrence; French Consul General Vincent Sciama; and Olivier Carré, Maire d’Orléans et Président d’Orléans-Métropole. The parade ends at Washington Artillery Park across from Jackson Square. Tricentennial fireworks over the Mississippi River will be at 9:00 pm.