French medieval theme park hails return of ‘Joan of Arc’s ring’
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A ring attributed to France's most famous historical martyr, Joan of Arc, was unveiled amid much fanfare on Sunday at a medieval theme park in western France. But historians remain sceptical about its authenticity.
The Puy du Fou historical theme park in the western Vendee region paid €376,833 ($425,000) for the ring, which is thought to have been in Britain for almost six centuries, at an auction last month in London.
Some 5,000 spectators showed up for the unveiling on Sunday, with the ring carried on a cushion in a wooden ark, accompanied by its own honour guard, a military procession and an actress on horseback playing the “Maid of Orléans”.
"It's a little bit of France that has returned. The ring has come back to France and will stay here," said Philippe de Villiers, the Puy de Fou’s founder and a prominent conservative politician, before a rendition of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.
Joan of Arc, who fought against the English occupation of France during the Hundred Years War, is regularly celebrated by nationalists and traditionalists like de Villiers.
She was burned alive at the stake by the English in 1431 and was later made a saint by the Catholic Church.
The gold-plated silver ring was dated to the 15th century by an Oxford laboratory, but the trove of historical documents that came with it have yet to prove it belonged to the famous French martyr.
"They are only at the start of the exploration. It's a lot of work but a beautiful adventure," said expert Vanessa Soupault, who saw the ring recently.
The bulky piece of jewellery features three engraved crosses and the inscription "JHS-MAR", signifying "Jesus-Maria".
That fits a description recorded at Joan of Arc's trial in 1431, where she told the court the ring had been given by her parents.
Puy du Fou says the ring was probably enlarged and modified at some point in the last 200 years.
The difficulty of tracing the ring's path through the centuries has left many historians sceptical.
It was thought to have been confiscated by Joan of Arc’s Burgundian captors shortly before they handed her over to the English, and may have ended up in the hands of the archbishop of Winchester, Henry Beaufort, who was present at her trial, and stayed in Britain ever since.
But it is not the first time the ring has supposedly returned to France, said Olivier Bouzy, head of the Joan of Arc Archives in the north-central French town of Orléans.
In the 1950s, a French-English doctor called James Hasson said he had bought the ring and presented it around France. Experts at the time cast doubt on its authenticity, said Bouzy.
Part of the problem is the number of copies in circulation. There was even a tombola in the early 20th century in which prizes included versions of the ring.
"Around Joan of Arc, we already have several cases of false objects," said Bouzy.
One of the more famous was when a fragment of an Egyptian mummy was mistaken for one of Joan of Arc's ribs, recovered from the stake.
Orléans, Rouen shun auction
The municipality of Orléans, the site of Joan of Arc’s greatest military victory, chose not to take part in last month’s auction after seeking Bouzy’s advice on the matter.
The Museum to Joan of Arc in Rouen, the Norman city where the French icon was executed, made the same decision, fearing another fake.
But medieval historian Philippe Contamine, while not yet convinced, said he had not given up all hope.
He said it was unlikely the ring was had truly belonged to the Maid of Orléans, noting that “there are too many unknowns".
But, he told AFP, “unlikely can still turn out to be real".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)