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

Bibliothèque municipale de Vendome MS 17b (Missal 13th c)

A votive Mass is a special mass that is composed to celebrate a special occasion or commemorate a saint, an object (e.g. the Cross) or a concept (e.g. the Trinity). The monks of La Trinité likely composed this votive mass dedicated to their most important relic, the Holy Tear. 

The votive mass of the Holy Tear is the earliest surviving text that offers both a record of the sacred meanings that were affixed to the Holy Tear, as well as the legend describing the origins and provenance of the relics, as well as the circumstances by which it arrived at the abbey. Sometime in the 14th century, the text of the votive mass was inserted within the abbey’s 13th-century missal.

A missal contains all of the changing and unchanging texts for masses celebrated during the liturgical year, as well as the special masses that were celebrated outside of the liturgical cycle. The votive mass for the Holy Tear is located in the missal with other special masses, such as the mass for the dead. The votive mass unfolds across the front and back of a single folio (f. 133 recto and verso), but it ends abruptly at the bottom of the page, suggesting that an additional folio is missing.

Many different hands produced the texts in this missal. This missal is dated to the 13th century, but several folios appear to be later inserts based on the handwriting and the quality of the parchment. The script of the votive Mass of the Holy tear appears as a form of Gothic textura script that was widely used in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the gallery below, several folios from the missal demonstrate the variation in paleography and materials that appear in the same codex.

The votive Mass of the Holy Tear offers of wealth of information regarding the how the relic's meaning was understood in the Middle Ages, and the mass is the earliest textual transcription of the “legend of the Holy Tear,” which was the narrative that explained the origins, provenance, manner in which the relics came to the abbey. Elements of the legend are found in other forms and contexts dating to the early and middle of the thirteenth century, but this is the first time the legend appears that includes Jesus shedding the tear; the angel collecting the tear and giving it to Mary Magdalene; Mary Magdalene passing it on to St. Maximus, who takes it to Constantinople; and Geoffrey Martel bringing it back to Vendôme. This sequence of events unfolds briefly in the Sequence prayer on folio 133r.

When reading the prayers that are specific to the Holy Tear, two ideas stand out. First, prayers emphasize the material quality of the tear. Verbs such as “dripping” and adjectives such as “dew” spark a visceral feeling in the reader as these words are centered on the liquid substance of the tear. The second idea one notices in the prayers is the emphasis on the tears of the devotee that are shed, following Jesus’s example, to redeem humankind and to rejoin with God. The emphasis on suffering and penance is notable. The Holy Tear functions as an intermediary between Jesus’s weeping for the death of Lazarus and the actions of medieval Christians to do penance for themselves.

Votive Mass to the Holy Tear
Translated by Anne Heath and Steve Maiullo

Bib. mun. de Vendôme MS 17b Missale
fols. 133r-133v

De sancta Christi lachrima officum

In lacrime preconium erumpat vox fideliumque stillavit ab oculo qui prestat lumen seculo.

The voice of the faithful should burst into a tearful proclamation that [the tear] drips from the eye that offers light for our age.

Introit Psalm verse (17:29)
Quoniam tu illuminas lucernam meam domine. Deus meus illumina tenebras meas.

Since you light my lamp, Lord. My god, bring light to my darkness.

Collect (oratio collecta)
Omnipotens et misericors deus qui benedictum filium tuum super lazarum in signum amoris lacrimas effundere voluisti. ac mirabili divinitatis potentia eundem lazarum a mortuis suscitasti: da nobis per gratiam sancti spiritus te cogitare. te amare. te suppliciter exorare cum devotis lacrimis. quibus viciorum nostrorum sordes abstergere. et a morte anime resurgere valeamus. Per eundem in unis euisdem.

All-powerful and merciful God, you wanted your blessed son to shed tears over Lazarus as a sign of his love. And by the amazing power of your divinity, you wanted to bring Lazarus back from the dead: Give us through the grace of the holy spirit the ability to think about you, to love you, to win you over humbly with our faithful tears. With these tears, may we be able to wipe away the dirt of our vices and resurrect our spirits/souls from the dead by unifying our tears with yours.

Epistle Reading
Ab Hebreros:
Fratres. Habentes pontificem magnum qui penetravit celos ihesum filium dei. teneamus cofessionem (4:14). Qui in diebus carnis sue. preces supplicationes que ad eum qui possit illum salvum a morte cum clamore valido et lacrimus offerens: exauditus est pro sua reverentia. Et quidem cum esset filius dei dedicit ex his que passus est obedientiam: et consummatus factus est omnibus obtemperantibu sibi causa salutis eterne (5:7-9).

To the Hebrews:
Brothers: since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, we should hold firmly to the confession. The person who in the days of the flesh offered up, with loud cries and tears, prayers and supplications to the one who could save him from death was clearly heard for his reverence. And indeed, since he was the son of God, he learned obedience from what he suffered. And being consummated, he became, to all that obey him, the cause of eternal salvation.

Gradual (Chant response after the Epistle)
Lugens pie defunctum fratrem suum lazarum maria Magdalena dixit ad ihesum domine si fuisses hic non esset mortuus lazarus frater meus. (From the feast of Mary Magdalene, CAO 7110)

Piously weeping over her dead brother, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene said to Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been there my brother had not died. (John 32)

Videns ergo flentem mariam et sororem eius martham lacrimatus est ihesus et accedens ad monumentem quatriduanum iam lazarum suscitavit. (From the feast of Mary Magdalene, CAO 7856)

He saw Mary and her sister Martha weeping. Jesus wept and he went up to the tomb and revived Lazarus who has already been in there for four days.

O lacrima gloriosa christi praecarissima. Gemma celi preciosa l[i]mphaque purissima. A Christo[que] nata angelo collecta.  Madgalena data Maximino vecta. Imperatori grecorum inde presentata. Gaufrido vindocinorum ad locum translata. Interna et externa conserva lumina. Gratia sempiterna corda illumina. O benigna O benigna O benigna que semper inviolata permansisti. Amen.

O glorious precious tear of Christ the most beloved  gem of heaven, precious and the purest water. Born from Christ and collected by the angel. The Magdalene was brought to Maximin. Hence presented to the Greek emperor. Translated to this place by Geoffrey of Vendôme. Keep safe. Keep intact internal and external lights. Illuminate our hearts with unending/eternal Grace. O (you are so) kind. May you remain inviolate.

Gospel Lesson
Secundo Johem (11:32–45)
In illo tempore Maria Magdalena cum venisset… multi ergo ex Iudaeis qui venerant ad Mariam et viderant quae fecit crediderunt in eum

In that time therefore Mary Magdalena had come… Many therefore of the Jews, who were come to Mary and Martha and had seen the things that Jesus did, believed in him.

Fremuit spiritu Jesus et turbavit seipsum et dixit iudaeis ubi posuistis lazaram dicunt ei domine veni et vide et lachrymatus est iesus.

Jesus was moved in spirit, and deeply troubled, and he said to the Jews, where have you laid Lazarus? They say to him, Lord, come and see. And Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

Domine iesu christe qui ex voluntate patris cooperante spiritu sancto super lazarum flere compassione humili voluisti: concede nobis peccatoribus tibi in carne passo ac proximis nostris compati in hac vita tali lacrimarum (lachrymarum) rore. cum tante humilitatis radice: ac tante caritatis fervore: ut post luctus et suspiria mereamur ad gaudia superne glorie pervenire. Qui vivis.

O most famous tear of the weeping loved one reviving the very Lazarus from death. Lord Jesus Christ who according to the will of the father with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit wanted to weep over Lazarus; release our sins against you in the suffered body; Pity the dew of so great a tear with the root of humility and the guarding of charity in this life, so that after the suffering and sighs might be earned for the glory be reached.

Nullam laoreet tellus sed libero commodo, ac aliquet sem pulvinar. Nullam tempor tortor id aliquet tempor. Cras quis libero sed elit venenatis placerat at id eros. Nulla congue orci id enim malesuada, quis dictum augue pharetra. Nunc ac tortor accumsan eros pulvinar suscipit non id purus. Duis sed libero ut arcu tincidunt volutpat ut id ante. Quisque tortor ipsum, convallis non pellentesque ac, pretium nec velit. Orci varius natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Fusce metus felis, porta nec nisl ac, sodales pretium neque.

Videns dominus flentes sorores lazaru ad monumentum lacyrmatus est coram iudeis et clamabat: lazare veni foras et prodiit ligatis manibus et pedibus qui fuerat quatridannus mortuus.

The Lord, seeing the weeping sisters of Lazarus at the tomb, wept before the Jews, and cried out Lazarus come forth, and (he) came forth bound hands and feet with winding cloth, and the Lord said to his disciples, ‘loose him and let him go.’ (John 11:43-44)

Omnipotens et misericors deus qui nos recreasti tuis salutiferis sacramentis: da robur utrisque oculis cum devote profluvio lachrymarum.

Almighty and merciful God, you who revived us by your salvation-bearing sacraments: give to each of our eyes the strength that comes with the faithful shedding of tears…(page ends).

This page has paths:

This page references: