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

Chapter 5

This chapter explores the reliquaries that enshrined the Holy Tear. The most important and largest was a golden portable altar of German origins refashioned into the outermost reliquary.

The portable altar-turned-reliquary bears witness to the networks of objects and their roles in establishing relationships among people and other objects. It no longer survives, but it is depicted in a late 13th-century stained glass image of Geoffrey donating the Holy Tear to the abbey. A detailed 18th-century engraving published in 1700 by Jean Mabillon depicts five of the six sides of the portable altar.

Although Geoffrey Martel is traditionally associated with the donation of the Holy Tear to La Trinité, and by extension the portable altar, this object functioned within a network of people that includes several spheres of influence: Nitker, the bishop of Freising; Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor; Agnes of Poitou, Empress; Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor; Geoffrey Martel, Count of Vendôme; Agnes of Burgundy, Countess of Vendôme, and Geoffrey of Vendôme, abbot of La Trinité.

[JS Map Depicting Network of People]

Here we present the visual and archival documentation for the lost portable altar and “reify” it through comparisons to extant contemporaneous portable altars. Then we consider its original function as a portable altar and the evidence regarding its original function as a gift between Nitker and Henry III. Finally, the portable altar likely came to Vendôme as a gift from Empress Agnes to her daughter Agnes of Burgundy and was then given to the abbey for the relics of St. Eutrope, bishop of Saintes in Aquitaine where Agnes had founded a female monastery.

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