Joan of Arc’s remains are a forgery

The relics of St Joan of Arc are not the remains of the fifteenth-century French heroine after all, according to a News Exclusive in Nature this week (article is free access). European experts who have analysed the sacred scraps say the relics are a forgery, made from the remains of an Egyptian mummy.

Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist at Raymond Poincaré Hospital in Garches, near Paris, obtained permission to study the relics from the French church last year. He says he was "astonished" by the results. "I’d never have thought that it could be from a mummy."  He and his colleagues used a range of techniques to investigate the remains, including mass, infrared and atomic-emission spectrometry; electron microscopy; pollen analysis; and, unusually, the help of the leading ‘noses’ of the perfume industry: Sylvaine Delacourte from Guerlain and Jean-Michel Duriez from Jean Patou.

Part of the legend of Joan of Arc springs from the observation, documented in historical records, that some of her organs resisted the fire. Hundreds of pages of surviving manuscripts describe in vivid detail how she was burnt three times over to try to ensure that nothing but ash remained, and so prevent her remains being worshipped. The observation of remaining organs was interpreted as a miracle.

But  "In fact, it is very difficult to totally cremate a body; organs such as the heart and intestines, which have a high water content, are very resistant to fire," says Charlier. "We see it all the time in forensics." The Joan of Arc result will be less controversial than the debunking of the Shroud of Turin, also published in Nature some years ago, but is still likely to generate large public interest, especially in France.

6 thoughts on “Joan of Arc’s remains are a forgery

  1. Very interesting, Maxine. I’d taken a bit of interest in this a few years back and am glad to now read it’s come out in the open. Now, where is she? Could be a good topic for a novel! 🙂

  2. Yes, great story… Dan Brown probably is on to it already! International conspiracy! Living descendants of Joan of Arc poised to win Democratic party nomination for next presidential election! Egyptians meanwhile involved in complicated plot to overthrow US government because of post-mummy-stealing resentment! Of course the real story is better than fiction, that parfumier touch is especially good…

  3. Fascinating article. Isn’t it strange how things seem to link? As I was reading here about the difficulty in reducing everything to ashes in a cremation I wondered where I’d been reading about that just recently. The I realised – it was in the diary of an academic archeologist – how one of the things she does with her undergraduates is take them to the crematorium to sift through the ashes. Apparently they are astonished how much is left intact and they always learn a lot.

  4. Interesting comment, Clare. At risk of lowering the tone, I could say that it is best to keep Keith Richards away from all of this, or there would not indeed be much left to investigate. But more seriously, it is interesting, maybe the fact that you can learn things from investigating ashes could be included in some of the nascent plots being dreamed up in the comments above yours!

  5. I’m still laughing about Keith Richards. Hope he doesn’t get some prion brain disease from what remained in the ashes!
    Some years back, I interviewed the director of the Mutter Museum, a medical museum here in Phila. that is just filled with fascinating — and gruesome — stuff. It includes a skull collection that interested me greatly and I asked the director, who had recently been in Bosnia exhuming graves and checking skulls to see who was whom among the dead, how the anatomists got the flesh off the bone.
    She said, “Well, you could boil them and then cut off the flesh, but dermestids work much better.”
    I leave you mystery readers to deduce what she was talking about — certainly did surprise me when she explained in more detail!

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