Historial Jeanne d’Arc in Rouen
Historial Jeanne d’Arc
7 Rue Saint-Romain, 76000 Rouen
Reviewed by Scott Manning, Independent Scholar
Among the many historical sites related to Joan of Arc in Rouen, the former English capital of Normandy, visitors can see the tower where Joan was threatened with torture and the old market square where she was executed. Newly enhanced among these sites is the palace of the archbishop of Rouen where portions of both Joan’s . Here, visitors can experience Historial Jeanne d’Arc, a 360-cinematic experience projected on stonewalls throughout multiple floors that is well worth the €11 entrance fee.
The main attraction is a 60-minute immersive documentary with maps and historical reenactments, relying heavily on post medieval images, especially Joan of Arc films. This story is played out in segments between six different rooms, including a medieval crypt, chapel, and kitchen, in which visitors are surrounded by videos projected on all four walls. The main audio is in French, but each visitor is equipped with headphones that sync up audio in their chosen language.
The first room begins with the basics of Joan’s world, including the Hundred Years War and the Valois family tree. Starting with John the Good (1319-64), the documentary slowly reveals members of the tree, demonstrating the complicated relationships between kings and dukes, especially those of Burgundy. The goal, which the documentary accomplishes admirably, is to establish the geopolitical situation to which Joan was born c. 1412.
In the next room, the documentary introduces visitors to Joan and her upbringing in Domremy. Here, actors appear, quoting from statements made during the nullification proceedings by people such as Durand Laxart, Catherine Le Royer, and Jean de Metz. Each figure is introduced with a few bullet points about their credentials, and when and where they made their statements. For example, Jean de Metz was “A soldier of Robert de Baudricourt, about 57 years old, the first companion of Joan of Arc, questioned at Vaucouleurs, Saturday 31 January 1456.” While actors provide their testimony, the documentary presents a montage of images of Joan from illuminated manuscripts such as Les Vigiles de Charles VII (c. 1483), along with short, silent clips from twentieth-century films such as Victor Fleming’s Joan of Arc (1948). None of the films is credited, so visitors will need to be quick to recognize the appearance of Hollywood stars such as Ingrid Bergman to identify the origins of the film clips shown.
A similar pattern is followed in the next room, which conveys Joan’s mission to meet with Charles VII and her interrogation at Poitiers. Throughout the documentary, visitors are introduced to the surviving (and lost) documentation from Joan’s time. For example, the documentary explains that we know the conclusions of the Poitiers examination (1429) because of the testimony from Seguin de Seguin during the nullification proceedings, although the minutes from the examination did not survive. Here, we learn of Joan’s conviction and her way with words that won over so many to her cause.
In the following room, a fourteenth-century pantry, the documentary dives into the Orléans campaign with 3D maps and more testimony, this time from those who witnessed the events such as Jean d’Aulon, Louis de Coutes, and Jean de Dunois. Portions of Joan’s letter to the English (22 March 1429) are read, telling the English to abandon the siege and leave France. However, when one of the actors points out that there is more to the letter that threatens violence on the English, another actor interjects that there are multiple versions of the letter, indicating that she may not have been the author of such threats. This interaction glosses over a little-discussed aspect of Joan’s letter in that, although it was widely copied and distributed, when Mathieu Thomassin included the letter’s contents in his Registre delphinal (1456), he presented it as four separate letters, addressed separately to Henry VI, the Duke of Bedford, the leaders of the English at Orléans, and the soldiers at Orléans. There is one theory, not purported by any current scholars that I know of, that Joan may have authored some of these letters, but they were later compiled as a single letter. Thus, is it not possible others enhanced the compiled letter we know so well today? However, when the single letter was presented to Joan at her condemnation trial (22 February 1431), she did not clarify any such details nor did she dispute the more violent aspects of the letter. The documentary does not dive into these details (presumably because of time), and the result leaves viewers with the impression that Joan was firm in her demands, but not violent.
The documentary glosses over the Loire Campaign but highlights the coronation of Charles VII at Reims using a scene from the television miniseries Joan of Arc (1999) with Neil Patrick Harris playing the king. The documentary highlights Joan’s failure to capture Paris and her wounding there, followed by her capture at Compèigne (1430).
The final room focuses on Joan’s condemnation trial (1431). Here, the documentary foregoes the surviving record from the trial where Joan’s responses were recorded, but instead relies on actors playing assessors testifying during the nullification proceedings. For those unfamiliar with the proceedings, they were conducted with a set of questions presented to each person individually, and their answers were recorded in Latin. These questions were predetermined and presented in the same order to each person. While some of the testimony is lively and reveals interesting perspectives on Joan from those who knew her, most of the recorded responses are mundane. Many of the responses are simply along the lines of “I don’t know about that.” However, the documentary enlivens the nullification proceedings by transforming what was a boring procedure into a room full of men discussing and arguing with each other about what they witnessed at Joan’s condemnation trial. Two of the men get so heated with each other, a moderator has to intervene.
As the documentary climaxes to Joan’s abjuration, the “faces of Joan” are presented, which includes different actors who played Joan in twentieth-century films. These actors include Geraldine Farrar in Joan the Woman (1916), Simone Genevois in La merveilleuse vie de Jeanne d’Arc (1929), Ingrid Bergman in Joan the Woman (1948), Sandrine Bonnaire in Jeanne la pucelle (1994), and Leelee Sobieski in Joan of Arc (1999). The documentary also uses Renée Jeanne Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) and Florence Delay in Procès de Jeanne d’Arc (1962), borrowing the most from these films to depict scenes from the trial and the moments leading up to Joan’s execution. The documentary ends with a scene of fire and a woman screaming “Jesus.”
From here, visitors are finished with the guided experience of Historial Jeanne d’Arc, but there are several more rooms to explore. For example, one room features several hundred post-medieval depictions of Joan in every medium imaginable including paintings, sculpture, film, comic books, ceramics, tobacco, advertising, postage stamps, and medals. There is a full-sized poster for each film used in the documentary along with Gustav Ucicky’s Das Mädchen Johanna (1935). This little-known film was produced in Germany during the Third Reich and twists the story of Joan to promote a National Socialist agenda. Notably absent is any mention of Luc Besson’s The Messenger (1999), the most recent big-budget Joan of Arc film. Besson’s film is arguably one of the most controversial in Johannic cinema, as it strips Joan of all spirituality, even suggesting her visions were pure delusions. Furthermore, “Joan is portrayed as impetuous, impractical, and a nuisance in the heat of battle,” as one historian observed.
For those ready to spend more time on the historiography of Joan of Arc, the library room provides a wonderfully illuminating experience. There is a short documentary that covers the ebb and flow of interest and scholarship on Joan after her death up to 2015, when the museum opened. Here, viewers are exposed to various takes on Joan from Shakespeare, Voltaire, Michelet, Quicherat, and Twain. The film also covers the difficult topic of nationalism from the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) to the National Front’s use of Joan in their xenophobic crusade against immigration.
Finally, the library offers a unique hologram experience where four different historians are projected onto glass panels in front of a bookshelf. Each historian sits and waits to be asked a question. The visitor can pull up a chair, press a button, and hear a medieval historian like Anne Curry or Philippe Contamine respond to a question such as “What was the real role of Joan of Arc in Charles VII’s army?” The visitor can scan their headphones to hear the answer in their chosen language.
A hologram of Anne Curry awaits your questions about Joan and her world in the library of the Historial Jeanne d’Arc
The sample of questions is vast, covering topics such as how knowledge of Joan has changed over the years, how the English viewed Joan, and how did Joan’s actions contribute to the Hundred Years War. There are sixteen questions in total, with answers ranging from three to five minutes each. While I didn’t see any visitor listening to all of the answers, I did see visitors picking and choosing questions, which is an ideal use of the experience, as each visitor will bring their own preconceived ideas and questions of interest. Providing a choose-your-own-question type of experience to further inquiry is a brilliant approach, especially when visitors have already been inundated with two documentaries.The Historial Jeanne d’Arc relies on 3D maps, twentieth-century films, and recreated scenes from the nullification proceedings to tell the story of Joan of Arc
Historial Jeanne d’Arc is predominately a lively, immersive documentary that will keep the attention of any visitor. The latter rooms do a superb job of exposing visitors to the complex post-medieval world of Joan of Arc. These rooms are overwhelming with the quantity of items, which may have been the point. The past six centuries have produced such a complex tapestry of Joan across time and cultures that it would be impossible to cover every perspective adequately.
If you have not visited Historial Jeanne d’Arc, I highly recommend carving out at least 90 minutes on your next trip to Rouen. You won’t regret it.
Scott Manning is the author of Joan of Arc: A Reference Guide to Her Life and Works, Rowman & Littlefield, 2023.
 Philippe Contamine, Olivier Bouzy, and Xavier Hélary, Jeanne d'Arc: Histoire et dictionnaire (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2012), 1013-1015.
 Full text in Craig Taylor, Joan of Arc: La Pucelle (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 74-76.
 For more on this film, see Kevin J. Harty, “The Nazis, Joan of Arc, and Medievalism Gone Awry: Gustav Ucicky’s 1935 Film Das Mädchen Johanna,” in Rationality and the Liberal Spirit, A Festchrift Honoring Ira Lee Morgan (Shreveport: A Centenary Publication, 1997), 122-133.
 Pamela Grace, The Religious Film: Christianity and the Hagiopic (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 122.