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Scientists to Test Joan of Arc 'Relics'

A group of scientists in France hope to shed light on a centuries-old mystery: Whether fragments of skin and bone may belong to 15th-century French heroine Joan of Arc.

The charred fragments, including a blackened rib, are said to have been recovered from the stake where Joan of Arc was burned in 1431. The farm girl from the Champagne region helped mount a campaign against the English in Orleans, after hearing celestial voices that she would be the country's savior in the Hundred Year's War. But not long after, she was captured and ransomed to the English, and condemned of heresy and witchcraft in a politically motivated trial.

Now, scientists from the Raymond-Poincare hospital near Paris will conduct a series of tests to determine whether the alleged remains really belong to the young, French heroine. Philippe Charlier heads the team of forensic experts doing the tests.

Charlier told French radio that even if the tests determine the remains are likely those of Joan of Arc, they won't reveal much about her. At best, they will determine the type of wood that was used to burn her, and the material of the clothing she wore. But he says they should be able to show - more or less - whether the remains are those of Joan of Arc.

Those remains were kept for a while by a French apothecary, who later turned them over to the archdiocese of Tours. In 1909, scientists declared it highly likely they belonged to Joan of Arc. That same year, she was beatified. In 1920, the she was made a saint.

But Roman Catholic authorities in Tours are casting doubt on the forensic research.

Bertrand Vincent, spokesman for the Tours archdiocese, said it was unlikely the scientists could prove irrefutably that the rib and other remains belonged to Joan of Arc. In a telephone interview, he said the Roman Catholic church would need 100 percent proof for it to embark on any effort to get the remains classified as religious relics.

Scientist Charlier seems to enjoy solving French historical mysteries. Last year, he was apparently able to prove that the mistress of 15th-century King Charles VII died from mercury poisoning - although it's unclear whether she was murdered. He says the research can also be applied to 21st-century mysteries - such as identifying victims of murders or fires.