It’s not every day you catch a candle-lit, medieval march through the streets of the French Quarter. Sure, parades are commonplace in New Orleans…but riders on horseback clanging with chainmail? Credit the overactive imagination of Amy Kirk-Duvoisin, marketing director of the French Market District, who dreamed up the Joan of Arc parade in 2009. Now held annually on the Maid of Orléans’ birthday, Jan. 6—which is also Twelfth Night, the kickoff to Carnival season—the popular procession mixes Mardi Gras pageantry with a hint of history.
Why resurrect a 604-year-old martyr?
You could argue that New Orleans wouldn’t be here if not for Joan of Arc. She saved France, and then 300 years later Bienville established New Orleans for France. That’s a big part of it.
There’s more than one Joan in the parade.
There are six or so, representing different points in her life. The most visible is the Student Joan in her white gown and breastplate. She stops at St. Louis Cathedral midway through the route and has her sword blessed by the priests. There’s Warrior Joan, who rides in armor on horseback, and Golden Joan who will be leading a second line at the end. I play Heretic Joan about to be burned at the stake.
Invariably the parade seems to fall on either one of the coldest nights of the year or during a downpour, still folks turn out in droves.
People are ready for Mardi Gras after the long Christmas season, and we’re a nice bridge between the two. It’s a small, digestible procession, plus it’s kind of a novelty to see a parade in the French Quarter; there aren’t any others except Krewe du Vieux. And because it has this educational, historical component behind it, a lot of people feel this sweet obligation, like it’s something they should support and bring their kids to.
Do you throw beads like most Carnival krewes?
We pass out a lot of handmade items, different medallions we make, playing cards that highlight the characters in the parade. It’s a range of things. One woman hands out fresh rosemary from her garden, others give prayer cards. Then you have irreverent people, like me, passing out Atomic Fireballs and matchbooks.
You’ve also been known to dress as a Creole tomato on occasion.
Whatever the season is, I have a costume for it. My day job is with the French Market, and our signature event is the Creole Tomato Festival every June. Whenever there’s an opportunity to promote the fest, I’m happy to put on my tomato outfit.
The French Market’s offices are across the street from the Joan of Arc statue. Can you see it from your desk?
If I crane my neck. I started the krewe before I started working with the Market, so it’s an interesting convergence. I try to keep the two separate, but I see her every day I come to work. It’s like, “Good morning, Joan!”