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

Framing the Holy Tear for the Pilgrim


The abbey's material culture suggests that the tear was displayed in the chapel  dedicated later to St. John, which was located in the north aisle just to the west of the crossing. Material evidence from pilgrim ampullae depict the Holy Tear displayed over a font fed by a canal flowing between the chapel and the main altar. According to the abbey's foundation legend, the main altar stood directly at the place where three stars fell into a well in a field below the count's castle. This event was later interpreted as a sign that an abbey should be founded on that very spot and dedicated to the Trinity.

The drawing of a fifteenth-century ampulla depicts a display apparatus consisting of  hexagon framed by lattice and a superstructure in the open form of an ecclesiastical roof. The Holy Tear was immersed in water that was used to fill the ampullae.

A pilgrim's badge from the sixteenth century century shows a pilgrim on the left kneeling before the lattice hexagon in the center of which is a caldron.  The Holy Tear in its glass vial is suspended over the caldron.  A monk on the right side of the badge holding a candle.


 The Holy Tear was positioned over a caldron filled with water flowing between it and the main altar. According to the parish records at the time, the nineteenth-century archaeologist Gabriel Plat discovered a canal filled with herbs. When the vegetation was removed, the water flowed through the pipe and towards the area around the main altar.  Around this canal  four square stones were arranged to create a basin that was covered by cut stones.  When Plat re-excavated the area, he found only a sump filled with mud, only two of the stones that had formed the basin, and no covering. However, he accepted that water from the Loir river was the course of the wet area and did not rule out water continuing to the main altar. This display tactic re-enforced the monastery's status as a sacred site with the same gravitas and physicality as would a saint's tomb. Trinitarian themes were present in both the physical linking of the water in the caldron to the abbey's foundation legend, and also within the material of the Holy Tear itself.

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