The Abbey of La-Trinité in Vendôme, France and the Cult of the Holy Tear: An Exploration of a Multi-Sensory Devotional Experience

The Reliquary Armoire in the Thirteenth Century

When the reliquary armoire was constructed at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the original abbey church on the site, built in the middle of the eleventh century as the architectural environment. Documents relating to donations suggest that the church of La-Trinité was built between 1032 and 1040. Excavations conducted in the nineteenth century have revealed the foundations in the south aisle that were from the eleventh-century church. The plan was similar to the current church.  A central vessel was surrounded by five radiating chapels. Unlike the present church, which is marked by its open architecture, each architectural unit, such as the chapels and aisles were partitioned by doors and walls. 

The abbey church's elevation must be ascertained by comparative evidence, all of which must remain conjecture. Two examples of contemporaneous architecture close to Vendôme that were also important and influential monasteries are the primary sources from which to reconstruct the elevation of the choir at La-Trinité. The abbey of Saint-Martial in Limoges was constructed between 1065-1100. The community of Saint-Martin of Tours was built between 1065-1080.

All three churches had a similar plan with a central apse surrounded by a cluster of chapels. According to Isabelle Isnard, the elevations the churches at Limoges and Tours differed significantly from La-Trinité. Both Saint-Marital and Saint-Martin had a three-level elevation with a tribune or gallery. The drawing of Saint-Martial from 1726 shows and apse with a row of clerestory windows, and a row of smaller windows in a triforium level. Entering the sanctuary, two large arches and a gallery, or tribune, frame the central space.  At Saint-Martin, the wall elevation can be seen from the nave. A three part elevation includes an arcade, a gallery and a clerestory above. 
An additional comparative church was selected that has standing architecture. The abbey of La-Charité-sur-Loire was constructed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It is located also along the Loire river about 200 km from Vendôme. Its elevation includes a central martyrium supported by eight free-standing columns. The upper elevation has a row of clerestory windows and a blind arcade between the clerestory and the arcade.  

In reconstructing what the original church may have looked like, Emily looked at the standing architecture at La-Charité-sur-Loire as her primary model.  We extracted out the specifically Cluniac architectural style, such as the scalloped arches, and took the common units that are present in the Early Modern drawing of Saint-Marital. Isnard has indicated the the eleventh-century church at La-Trinité had only a two-story elevation. In the first drawing, we included a row of small openings that could have been a bind arcade or windows.
In a second reconstruction, we developed the blind arcade along the model of La-Charité.
In thinking through the barrier that delineated the monks' choir from the ambulatory, Emily reconstructed two interiors, one with an iron grille, based on the surviving thirteenth-century example from the abbey of Sainte-Foy in Conques. In the second image, we visualized a stone choir screen using the thirteenth-century example from the Benedictine abbey of La-Chaise-Dieu.

The spatial organization of the eleventh-century church delineated space in discrete units, such that each chapel was framed by a wall and closed off with doors.  In the choir two, the narrow shape of the martyrium (smaller than the present church) drew the visual focus to its center. The location of the Holy Tear armoire within the choir magnified the scale of this monument. With a stone screen, this would have further emphasized the enclosed nature of the choir.  A iron grille would have opened the space and allowed visual access to the armoire from the ambulatory.
 
 


 

 

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  1. Choir of La-Trinité, 13th century
  2. Choir of La-Trinité, 13th century, with iron grille