I'm not religious, wasn't raised that way, never believed in a god and probably never will. I sometimes envy the people that are capable of believing with all their heart. I'm pretty sure I've read somewhere religious people are happier than non-believers. I have a thing about churches; the atmosphere, the quiet inside of them calms me down no matter how excited or giddy or upset I was beforehand. I don't know whether it's the architecture, the stained glass windows, the smell of cold, old stone and wooden benches or how everyone else is behaving in a church that makes me feel the way I do. Maybe it's a bit of all of these things.
I have a thing about saints, too. Well, about one saint. I'm madly in love with Jeanne d'Arc. That might be because I carry her name, too - well, at least the German version. I remember when I was in first or second grade we had a box of little things in our classroom and when it was someone's birthday, that kid was allowed to pick a thing from that box. There was a lot of stuff in there, small books, boxes of coloured pencils, spinning tops, little toy cars and probably heaps of things I can't remember. One of the books was a square little paperback with a pretty cover called "Johanna von Orléans" - Jeanne d'Arc. Tiny me saw that book the first time it was someone's birthday and wanted to read it. I wanted to know the story of the girl in the armour, I wanted to know why she was kneeling on the floor with a sword in her hand, I wanted to know why the back of the book showed her tied to a pole, flames leaking from the pile of wood beneath her. I was intrigued by that book, by that girl that had my name.
Now, here's the catch: my birtday is at the very end of the school year. Every time the box was taken out of the drawer I hoped that the kid who's birtday it was wouldn't choose that book. Every time they choose something else my hope grew. At the end of the school year the box was almost empty, and when it finally finally was my turn I didn't have to contemplate at all. I knew what I wanted. I'm not too sure now that so many years have passed but I think I've read it within a few days. I cried when Jeanne d'Arc was sentenced to death and I made place in my tiny heart for the girl who gave everything for what she believed in. In eigth grade we had to choose a région of France for a presentation we had to do in French class. I chose Centre-Val de Loire - capital of that région is Orléans.
When we went to France last October, we stopped in Reims to see the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. We had been in the bus for at least 12 hours at that point, all of us tired and grumpy. The second I stepped into Notre-Dame de Reims, my mind was still. The windows at the other side of the nave were beautiful and while I tried getting a good picture of them I got closer and closer to them. Right beneath the window was a statue of Jeanne d'Arc. One of the heros of my childhood. The girl who fought. In my mind, I started a conversation with her. I told her about how she inspired me, about how she fascinated me ever since I was a tiny six- or seven-year-old. I stood there long enough for the others to catch up and then a bit.
We visited Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris too. Again, I was in awe - the stained glass windows, the atmosphere, the weight of history on every stone, every arch ... we wandered around, looked at the statues, at the ornaments, at a kind of beauty that was older than we could imagine. When we got to Jeanne d'Arc, I couldn't go another step. In my head, I thanked her for everything she'd meant to me. I lit a candle for her and stood infront of the statue long enough to get parted from the group. I was lost for a few minutes but eventually found the others again. In my thoughts, I was still talking to Jeanne.