Poitiers, France - Statue of Saint Joan of Arc (Église Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand); Worcester, MA - Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church

Statue of Joan of Arc , Saint Hilaire le Grand church, Poitiers-2.jpg

Title

Poitiers, France - Statue of Saint Joan of Arc (Église Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand); Worcester, MA - Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church

Catalog Entry

The heroic figure defending the downtrodden is available in most cultures. With the omnipresent threat of violence and invasion by outside forces and religions, the Middle Ages were a time fraught with peril. Because of this, society became fixated on the heroic feats of those believed to be ordained by God to deliver salvation. During the Middle Ages, the hero is a commonly seen figure in religious, literary, and historical contexts.

The Old English tale of Judith is an epic story of a fearless Hebrew leader putting herself in harm's way in order to save her people. The titular character Judith is the de-facto leader of the Hebrew city of Bethulia. The lone city is besieged by an Assyrian army led by the evil general Holofernes. Going alone to the enemy encampment, Judith prays to the Almighty for the strength to decapitate the sinful Holofernes. Judith's accomplishments inspire her people to fight back and eventually eliminate the Assyrian army. Judith is noteworthy not only for being an example of a female hero in Old English literature, but also for being a symbol of religious protection.

However, tales of a divine heroine fighting for the justice of her people are not exclusive to literature, as the historical figure Joan of Arc shares an uncanny number of similarities to fictional heroes. Joan of Arc believed that she received a premonition from God compelling her to take up arms against the English armies. Inspiring her fellow soldiers, Joan of Arc became a hero to the French and eventually succeeded in liberating Orleans. Joan of Arc, despite waging a war, remained faithful to her belief in God. In some instances, for example, she allowed English soldiers to retreat on a Sunday instead of killing them. Despite eventually being executed by the English, Joan of Arc became a martyr for the French cause and lived on as an icon.

Similarly, community leaders in religious circles are often seen as heroes for their ability to help those around them. In Worcester, Massachusetts, early Italian immigrants faced ostracism by the Irish community due to having to share mass with the Irish Catholics at Saint Stephens Church. The Italians would need their own church in order to continue worshipping in their native tongue. Though an attempt to create an Italian parish started in 1890, it was eventually abandoned due to financial complications. In 1904, the project was revived by Monseigneur Gioachino Maffei, who would later become a spiritual leader for the Italian community in Worcester. By 1906, the “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church” was officially opene and stood as a welcoming place for Italian Catholics. 

Unfortunately, this historic parish and spiritual pillar of the Worcester community faces possible demolition in the near future. Since 2016, the church has been officially closed due to structural damages it received while being right next to Interstate 290. Repair costs range in the millions, and the property is on sale and currently still looking for a buyer.

On a surface level, Judith, the story of Joan of Arc, and the church “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel” are clearly different, as Monseigneur Maffei building a church and Judith decapitating Holofernes should be quite obviously unrelated. While heroic figures can take many different forms, they all encompass a desire for protection and justice. The Italian parish of Worcester serves just as much as an icon as the monuments of Joan of Arc or the literary exploits of Judith.

Bibliography

"Archive of Most Endangered Historic Resources." Preservation Massaachusetts, 2016, http://www.preservationmass.org/archive.

“Joan of Arc.” Biography.com, 28 Apr. 2017, biography.com/people/joan-of-arc-9354756.

Lucas, Peter J. “Judith and the Woman Hero.” The Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 22, 1992, pp. 17-27. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/3508373.

Photographer(s)

Kisha G. Tracy

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Jacob Meck, Student, Fitchburg State University

Research Assistant(s)

Chaz Deveney, Student, Fitchburg State University

Citation

“Poitiers, France - Statue of Saint Joan of Arc (Église Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand); Worcester, MA - Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church,” Transforming Perceptions of Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed February 25, 2018, http://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/14.

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