Becoming a Relic: Origins and Context
This chapter explores the contexts in which Christ’s tear became a relic. I trace the development of the Lazarus narrative in the Gospel of John and the tradition of exegetical interpretations of Jesus weeping and visual culture from their origins in Patristic theology through the twelfth century when the Holy Tear first appears as a relic at La Trinité.
I argue that the Holy Tear relic as both an idea and as physical matter originated in the Biblical text stating that “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35). However, exegetical interpretations of this line were not focused on Jesus displaying human grief, but rather Jesus showing his forgiveness of human sin. Jesus’s power to raise Lazarus from the dead manifests the forgiveness given to humanity, and is seen as a precursor to the resurrection of the dead on the Day of Judgement. Thus the relic itself represented not a vestige of Jesus’s human nature, but grace given by the incarnate god.
Relics of Christ’s tear first appeared at La Trinité in Vendôme.The Vendôme cult is one of the earliest. The abbey developed a votive Mass to the Holy Tear, and its prayers reflect the medieval concept of Christ’s tear being a sign of forgiveness of sin. Other locations also claimed to have tear relics. The cults, either claim to have been given a tear relic from Geoffrey Martel, thus creating an association of La Trinité, or they were given by other crusaders to received the Holy Tear from the imperial treasury in Constantinople, the storehouse of the most prestigious and authentic relics in Christendom.