St. Joan of Arc's bones were a forgery

5th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 5, 2007 (AFP) - Bones and a piece of linen cloth proclaimed as the holy relics of Saint Joan of Arc are fakes that come from an Egyptian mummy, a French forensic scientist announced on Wednesday.

PARIS, April 5, 2007 (AFP) - Bones and a piece of linen cloth proclaimed as the holy relics of Saint Joan of Arc are fakes that come from an Egyptian mummy, a French forensic scientist announced on Wednesday.

"They are mummified remains of Egyptian origin dated to (Egypt's) Late Period," said Philippe Charlier, after his team subjected the ancient remnants to a battery of 21st-century tests.

France's patron saint was burned at the stake for heresy in Rouen, Normandy, on May 30 1431, aged just 19, after leading a French revolt against the occupying English.

The relics were found in 1867 in a jar in the attic of a Paris pharmacy, bearing the inscription, "Remains found under the stake of Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans."

They are housed in a museum at Chinon, centre-western France, that is owned by the Archdiocese of Tours.

But their authenticity had been doubted, as the English ordered Joan's body to be reduced to ashes and cast into the River Seine in an attempt to prevent the emergence of a cult.

The samples included a charred-looking human rib, chunks of apparently burnt wood, a 15-centimetre (six-inch) piece of linen and a cat femur, a finding that is consistent with the mediaeval practice of throwing a cat on to the pyre of suspected witches.

Charlier, a forensic scientist at the Raymond Poincare University Hospital at Garches, near Paris, used electron microscopy, pollen analysis and three types of spectrometry.

In an unusual move, Charlier also enlisted the help of two leading "noses" in the French perfume industry to help his investigation.

These experts in scents sniffed the remains, which had been kept unopened in a jar since 1979, and 10 other samples from Charlier's lab without being told what the substances were or being allowed to confer.

Both smelled hints of "burnt plaster" and "vanilla" in the relics. The vanilla scent was a useful tip, as the molecule vanillin is produced when a body decomposes -- and so would occur in a mummy -- but not in someone who was burned.

Carbon-14 analysis dated the remains to between the third and sixth centuries BC, and chemical analysis of the rib, femur and black chunks of wood matched those from Egyptian mummies from the same period.

The black substance coating the rib and wood was consistent with an embalming mix used in mummification, comprising wood resins, bitumen and malachite. In addition, the linen had a coating characteristic of mummy wrappings and was found to contain large amounts of pine pollen.

Pine resin was used in embalming... but pines did not grow in Normandy at that time. As for the cat femur, the black coating was not caused by combustion -- and, tellingly, the species was not European.

Charlier's research was also reported on Wednesday by the British science journal Nature. He told AFP he would present the work at a symposium at Loches, near Chinon, later this week.

In a reaction, the Archdiocese of Tours noted that the Roman Catholic Church had never officially authenticated the remains and that they had never been put on display or publicly paraded for veneration.

"The church, the diocese and the parish, which were the owners, lost interest in them years ago. They were never put forward for devotion," said diocesan spokesman Bertrand Vincent.

The study does not invalidate the existence of Joan of Arc, whose brief life, trial and death in fact is one of the most well-documented episodes in mediaeval history and remains a subject of scholarly debate.

Initially a figurehead who revealed herself as a true military leader, Joan led the French armies in lifting the English siege of Orleans in 1429, the first of a chain of swift victories that ended with the coronation of Charles VII.

Wounded in the battle for Paris, she was captured and sold to the English, to be convicted of heresy and burned at the stake. The body was ordered to be burned twice more, and the ashes cast into the River Seine, in order to prevent any relics being seized.

She was rehabilitated by the Church a quarter-century later, and canonised in 1920.

As for the source of the mummy pieces, Charlier noted that in the 17th and 18th century, a craze grew among European "curiosity collectors" for such items. And, from the 15th century, powdered Egyptian mummy, called mumia, was part of the European pharmacopeia.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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