Chapter 3 Circulating among Friends: Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus and the Pilgrimage to the Holy Tear at the Abbey of La Trinité, Vendôme

In: Art, Architecture, and the Moving Viewer, c. 300-1500 CE
Anne Heath
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Each year from the 12th to the 18th century, on the Friday before Passion Sunday, pilgrims gathered at the abbey of La Trinité in Vendôme to venerate the Holy Tear of Christ. This relic was believed to have been shed by Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus when he raised him from the dead, and then given to Mary Magdalene. A significant portion of the 16th-century furnishings remain in situ, thus allowing an investigation of how the built environment guided the movements of pilgrims through the unfolding of the dramatic narrative that culminated in an encounter with the Holy Tear. This essay traces how pilgrims filed through the north ambulatory to the chapel of Mary Magdalene. There, a glazing program depicts key images from the Lazarus narrative. In each of the chapel’s windows, a form of weeping takes place on the part of Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Jesus, which served as exemplars for pilgrims preparing for their own encounter with the sacred relic. One of the windows depicts Mary Magdalene washing Christ’s feet with her tears and another, Mary and Martha begging Christ to come to their brother’s aid. The missing panel of the east window, lost during an explosion in 1870, likely depicted Christ calling Lazarus from the tomb in the moment in which he produced the Holy Tear. Contiguous to the north ambulatory, the light of this window created the dramatic environment for culmination of the Lazarus narrative as pilgrims were offered a view of the Holy Tear as a gift from Christ.

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