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

The Spatial Narrative of Lazarus

In the sixteenth century, a separate relic staging was devised on the north side of the ambulatory next to where the armoire was kept. This new location, coupled with its mediate environment, created a narrative geography traversed by pilgrims that combined devotion to the Holy Tear with a spiritual journey to witness the resurrection of Lazarus. We wanted to explore how the relic, images, and the architectural structure would unfold visually as a viewer moved through a space. Our questions focused on what would be the prominent sight lines and select points in a viewer's route through the abbey church. Which images would be sustained and which would move in an out of view.

Much of it still remains intact today. In the arcade bay to the west of the armoire, a double opening was created within a stucco low wall that could be opened and closed. The low wall allowed the monks to stand behind the partition and display the Holy Tear. The other opening may have been for donations. The opening could be closed with a door, and although there is no evidence of a grille, great care must have been taken to craft the contact with the relic. 

 A fourteenth-century stained glass window depicts the donation scene of Geoffrey presenting the Holy Tear to the abbot coupled with a scene of a pilgrim kneeling before an altar and gazing at the Holy Tear as it is suspended from a chain held by a monk. This would have been the desired outcome for the pilgrim: an unobstructed view of the relic. This stained glass panel is located in the abbey's clerestory, one bay to the south of the axial glass depicting the Trinity. This panel is visible to the pilgrim as he or she made the spiritual journey along the north aisle. The glass comes in an out of view, calling the pilgrim with the promise of this sought after vision.

In addition to a vision of the Holy Tear, another geography unfolds along the pilgrim's path. Approaching the choir from the north aisle, the Holy Tear stained glass and the glass in the eastern window of the Mary Magdalene chapel remains clearly visible from the north aisle. Currently the window contains a mish-mash of early modern and modern glass, none of it in situ. However, in the north aisle a panel of sixteenth-century glass, also not in situ depicts the moment Christ, standing at the center called out to Lazarus veni foras as the dead man, in the foreground, sits up from the tomb and is freed from his burial shroud. This window may have been placed originally in the Mary Magdalene chapel to draw the pilgrim forward, towards the awaited contact directly with Christ. In this narrative, the anticipation builds with every step as the glass draws more into focus with each approaching step. After contemplating these scenes, the pilgrim would be prepared to kneel and receive a blessing from the Holy Tear, even having it impressed on the eyes, physical vision restored and spiritual vision renewed.

In reconstructing a view of the pilgrim's path to the reliquary display along the north aisle, we relied on this visual evidence that remains in the abbey, as well as on documentary and archaeological evidence. According to the nineteenth-century historian Plat, the north aisle had a low wall that mitigated pilgrim traffic. As was the case with the clerestory stained glass depicting the pilgrim's devotion to the relic, the Raising of Lazarus, its is original position, would have been clearly visible for the duration of the pilgrim's approach.

These two geographies, devotion to the Holy Tear and a witness to Lazarus's resurrection, unfolded over time and space as the pilgrim made his or way along the north corridor towards the relic display. The glass of Lazarus remains visible throughout the journey, and would have come into focus as the pilgrim came closer to his or her destination. The glass donation and adoration scenes come in and out of view as pilgrims make their way towards the choir. The anticipation is heightened by the appearance and disappearance of the Holy Tear adoration scene. Finally, as the pilgrim turns to view the Holy Tear, the adoration scene comes into full view, after which the pilgrim could turn and encounter the resurrection of Lazarus in the stained glass in the chapel of Mary Magdalene opposite the Holy Tear.  

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