Joan of Arc Relics are Fake
Undated photograph of a portrait of Joan of Arc.
Credit: AP Photo

The relics of Joan of Arc’s body housed in a church museum are forgeries and not the remains of the 15th-century French heroine and saint, it was reported Wednesday.

Instead, the sacred items were manufactured from the remains of an Egyptian mummy, scientists say. The relics include a charred-looking human rib, chunks of seemingly burnt wood, a six-inch strip of linen and a cat femur—consistent with the medieval practice of throwing black cats onto the pyres of alleged witches. They are housed in a museum in Chinon that belongs to the Archdiocese of Tours, in France.

The finding of the fabrication was reported by news@nature.com, the online site of the journal Nature.

Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist at Raymond Poincare Hospital in Garches, near Paris, France, who examined the remains, said he was “astonished” by the results. “I’d never have thought that it could be from a mummy,” Charlier told Nature.

The researchers used a host of techniques to investigate the remains, including infrared and atomic-emission spectroscopy, mass spectroscopy, electron microscopy, pollen analysis and, more unusually, the help of the leading “noses” of the perfume industry.

The sniffers detected hints of vanilla in the remains, which is inconsistent with cremation. “Vanilla is produced during decomposition of a body,” Charlier explained. “You would find it in a mummy, but not in someone who was burnt.”

Other lines of evidence indicating the relics are fake, according to the Nature article:

  • Black crust found on the rib and cat femur was not made by burning, but is consistent with Egyptian embalming fluids.
  • The linen cloth has a coating characteristic of mummy wrappings.
  • Large amounts of pine pollen were found among the relics. Pine trees did not grow in Normandy at the time Joan of Arc was killed, but pine resin was widely used in Egypt during embalming.
  • Radiocarbon dating of the remains suggests they originated sometime between the third and sixth centuries BC. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.

Egyptian mummies were used in Europe during the Middle Ages in pharmaceutical remedies, Charlier said, and it’s probable that someone poached the remains from one to fabricate the relics, which are said to have been discovered in a jar in 1867 in the attic of a Paris pharmacy.