Joan of Arc parade celebrates Maid of Orleans

Photo provided by Kate Welsh -- Aggie Bell rides a horse in the 2012 parade as the winner of the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc maid of honor student contest.
Photo provided by Kate Welsh -- Aggie Bell rides a horse in the 2012 parade as the winner of the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc maid of honor student contest.

Set to begin at 6 p.m. on Jan. 6 at Conti and Decatur

Though it’s only the fifth year of the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc’s parade, it has become a popular and growing celebration of the Maid of Orleans, the city’s French heritage and New Orleans history.

When Amy A. Kirk-Duvoisin founded the Joan of Arc Project in 2008, she described the tribute as a “moving theater piece,” in which anyone was invited to walk in the parade in costume.

It has since transformed into a more traditional Carnival-style parade that incorporates handmade throws and a traditional formal court into the medieval-themed procession.

“The original idea was to create something to celebrate her and I never expected it to take the route of a parade, but it did. Right now, it finally has more substance. We’ve moved out of whoever comes, comes and into more formality but we still have that funkiness,” Kirk-Duvoisin said.

It is the “funkiness” and authenticity that draws people to the parade.

“When I saw the parade the first year, I said, ‘That’s what Mardi Gras should be.’ It was more of the homemade feel and people coming together to have some fun. It was back to the nature of Mardi Gras,” said Rafael Monzon, this year’s parade marshal.

The parade will begin at 6 p.m. Sunday, and will celebrate Joan of Arc’s 601st birthday, as well as 12th night, the traditional start to Carnival season.

It will begin at the Bienville statue at Conti and Decatur streets, where a local actor dressed as Bienville will read a city proclamation, a tribute to New Orleans’ history and founding.

It continues down Chartes Street, where there will be a blessing of the sword at St. Louis Cathedral.

The parade ends in Dutch Alley in the French Market District, across the street from the golden Joan of Arc statue, with a king cake ceremony.

“Joan would love the fact that we serve king cake, because she loved her king. It was what she lived and died for,” Kirk-Duvoisin said.

After the parade, the public is invited to the parade’s first afterparty at the Steamboat Natchez Landing, where there will be a cash bar, live music and an opportunity to meet the krewe.

The Joan of Arc parade strives to incorporate new aspects of Joan’s life and legends about her into the parade each year, and this year is no exception.

The parade will debut a number of new additions including a fire dancer at the Bienville statues; two dancing troupes, the Muff-a-lottas and the Chorus Girl Project; and even a papier-mâché birthday cake that parade-goers can place tea lights on to honor Joan.

“We celebrate her birthday every year, but it’s surprising how many people don’t understand that,” Kirk-Duvoisin said.

Among the more significant changes to the parade is the addition of the character Queen Yolande of Aragon, who financed Joan’s army. The queen will be portrayed for the first time this year by Betsie Gambel, president of Gambel Communications, a local public relations firm.

“I’ve wanted to honor an accomplished businesswoman for a while. Betsie Gambel has always been a strong female. ... She is someone who comes and goes out of conversation about people in town that are natural leaders and someone that is really loved by a lot of people for both her professional and personal life,” Kirk-Duvoisin said.

The rest of the court includes a student Joan, who will be portrayed by Gretchen Neuenhaus, a junior at Mount Carmel Academy; and King Charles VII of France, portrayed by René Bajeux, owner of René’s Bistro.

This will be the first year the krewe has five official handmade throws. Members will be handing out St. Joan magnets with butterfly wings, sword pendant necklaces, butterfly clips, a Joan warrior doll and 16 wooden swords to symbolize the age at which Joan received her sword, in addition to prayer cards, tea lights and matches.

Antoinette de Alteriis, the krewe’s costume consultant, recommends people look for the new coat of arms designed specifically for the parade.

“Joan’s colors were bright blue and yellow, so we’ve taken her coat of arms, which is the crown, sword and two fleur de lis, and created our own. There are raindrops coming from the crown to symbolize our first year because we were drenched, and the crown is askew because it is New Orleans.

“Look for that on banners, costumes and throws,” de Alteriis said.