Multimedia martyrdom


George Bernard Shaw termed St. Joan of Arc “one of the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages.” Burned at the stake in 1431 for heresy, 19-year-old Joan, driven by the voices of St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and St. Michael the archangel, spent most of her teens dressed as a man leading French troops in their fight to expel the English. After many victories she was captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English, and prosecuted in Rouen by the Roman Catholic Inquisition, which kept meticulous records of the proceedings.

Those records inspired Carl Dreyer’s recently rediscovered silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), which depicts Joan’s excommunication, trial, and execution. The film in turn moved composer Richard Einhorn to create Voices of Light (1993), an oratorio designed to be performed in concert with The Passion—as the Department of Music did Saturday night in Rockefeller Chapel. The film screened to a 1,200-plus crowd, as Randi Von Ellefson conducted the University Chorus and University Symphony Orchestra members in Rockefeller’s chancel, hidden behind the movie screen and black curtains. Together the score and film dramatically recreated the trial, which Joan of Arc scholar Pierre Champion deemed “second in importance only to the trial of Christ.”


February 25, 2004