The Jehanne d’Arc Cycle
The Fairies Tree
Image copyright Fern Petrie 2017
Fern Petrie, The Fairies Tree, Oil on Canvas, 92 x 61 cm, 2015.
“I have often heard it said by old people that the fairies met there. My godmother even told me that she had seen fairies there…I never saw any fairies under the tree to my knowledge.” – Jehanne’s testimony at her trial.
The tree allusion also features in a prophecy; “There is a wood in Domremy, called the Polled Wood; you can see it from my father’s door, it is not a league away…when I was on my journey to my king, I was asked by some if there was not a wood in my country called the Polled Wood, for it had been prophesized that a maid would come from near that wood to do wonderful things. But I said I had no faith in that.” - Jehanne.
At her inquisition Jehanne mentions that from the boughs of this tree (known as the Ladies or Fairies Tree) the girls of Domremy fashioned garlands for the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Nearby there was also a well that was believed to possess healing properties.
This mixture of Christian and pagan beliefs was infused through medieval society. In this work ‘The Fairies Tree’ I comment on this tradition by portraying Jehanne in the red skirt of a peasant girl embroidered with crims0n roses entwined within the roots of the tree.
As a girl of thirteen she was visited by the saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret and told of her destiny. She was also instructed how to behave and most importantly, to keep her virginity. This red dress symbolises a simple country life of superstition (the fairy shoes) mingled with Christianity, romance and the expectations of family and tradition.
In attiring Jehanne in such items I seek to embody the hold of such concerns over the medieval mind and thus her acceptance that she was meant for another path.
Nearer her heart and her head I have chosen a simple white bodice embroidered with pink roses to represent her adherence to the wishes of her voices; the embroidered roses symbolic of her adolescence, femininity and chastity and for her belief in her destiny, her willingness to forego that which others value.
The Fairies Tree roots her organically in Domremy with its quaint traditions and earthly appetites. Behind her shoulder is the house in which she was raised; where she learned her faith from her mother and heard the otherworldly voices for the first time in her father’s garden. Even as the anthropomorphic tree hollow forms the shape of the whispering past, the body of the tree twists away from her while her body is turning towards the church as she listens for the peeling of bells and continues with her Hail Mary’s.
Of her heavenly visitations, Jehanne says “There was a great light all about,” and so in this artwork, around her float the lights of the illusive fairies, depicting also the visitations of the Saints, who “Twice and thrice a week the voice told me that I must depart and go into France.”