Lauren Mulholland: The Marian Lament as Jerusalem Lament: Grieving the Holy City in Thirteenth-Century Occitania

Despite its centrality in Christian religious teaching, in the Middle Ages many believers were unable to ever visit Jerusalem. How, then, did they imagine the Holy City? What tropes were used to embed Jerusalem in the imagination of those in the West? How did the capture and subsequent loss of Jerusalem during the Crusades impact upon Christian understanding of – and emotional response to – both earthly and heavenly city? These questions have been the focus of recent scholarly work (Berriot-Salvadore, 1995; Chareyron, 2000; Kühnel, 2015), with art, architecture, and liturgy receiving particular attention. However, depictions of Jerusalem in vernacular lyric remain under-examined.

This paper analyses representations of Jerusalem in the anonymous Occitan Marian lament De gran dolor cruzel ab mortal pena (‘A most cruel pain, a mortal wound’) and in the Occitan version of the planctus Mariae. These laments form part of a wider culture of Marian devotion that developed quite rapidly in Occitania – as it did in other parts of Europe ­– during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. This Occitan devotion was manifested in a range of ways, including the number of churches and shrines dedicated to the Virgin, and the prevalence of statues of the Vierge Noire in Occitania, which usually depicted mother and child.

The figure of Mary in Occitan lyric has been a topic of much scholarly discussion, taking into consideration her role in troubadour religious lyric (Scheludko, 1935; Salvat, 1957; Oroz Arizcuren, 1972; Spaggiari, 1977), her possible representation as the courtly domna (O’Sullivan, 2013), and her function in the work of the Occitan female poets, the trobairitz (Rieger, 1991). The Occitan planctus Mariae has received attention focused on its relation to other vernacular versions and its use of courtly language (Secor, 1985). However, for both the anonymous troubadour lyric and the Occitan planctus Mariae, Mary’s links to Jerusalem and the emotional rhetoric used in the works have been understudied. This paper aims to fill these gaps and demonstrate that the Marian laments can reveal much about both Occitan understanding of the Holy City and Occitan emotional cultures in the late thirteenth century.

By examining the aforementioned Marian laments for Jerusalem inferences, this paper will firstly demonstrate that the Holy City is more prominent in these works than has previously been considered. Furthermore, I will suggest that these Marian laments function as lamentations for the city of Jerusalem, particularly in the case of the planctus. The paper will theorise that in the laments the Virgin functions as an emotional conduit, allowing listeners to come closer to both her son and to the Holy City.

The lyric De gran dolor cruzel ab mortal pena was composed in the late thirteenth century and comprises nine eight-line verses and a four-line tornada (a shorter stanza at the end of the lyric). It takes the form of a monologue in which Mary describes her suffering while watching Jesus on the Cross. The paper will analyse how rhetorical features are used in the lyric to create a sense of dramatic, uncontrolled grief and will discuss how the creation of such heightened emotion may have fostered compassion and empathy in the audience.

Moving from the anonymous lyric to the vernacular planctus Mariae, the paper’s focus will shift from Mary’s behaviour at the foot of the Cross to her actions after Christ’s burial and on her return to Jerusalem. The paper will consider how Mary’s grief following her son’s death may have elicited different emotional responses from various groups. In particular, I will focus on the Beguine communities established by Douceline of Digne (d. 1274) at Marseilles and Hyères. I will consider the lament’s possible function as an ‘intimate script…used for the performance of feeling’ (McNamer, 2010) that may have guided the enactment of compassion for the Beguines.

This paper forms part of my broader research project, which examines representations of Jerusalem in Occitan lyric and liturgy, and which aims to ascertain how Occitan lyric used religious material in order to elicit emotional responses to both the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem. The paper will demonstrate the prominence of Jerusalem in the Marian lament and will argue that these works played an important role in shaping Occitan conceptions of – and emotional responses to – the Holy City.

Lauren Mulholland (


This post forms part of an open mini-series published in preparation of the COST Action IS1301 Training School “Passionate Devotions. Emotions in Medieval and Early Modern Religious Texts, Images and Music” (see announcement with details about submissions here).

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Chareyron, Nicole, Les Pèlerins de Jérusalem au Moyen âge (Paris: Imago, 2000).

Kühnel, Bianca; Noga–Banai, Galit; Vorholt, Hanna, eds., Visual Constructs of Jerusalem (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015).

McNamer, Sarah, Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010)

O’Sullivan, Daniel, ‘Na Maria: Courtliness and Marian Devotion in Old Occitan Lyric’, in Shaping Courtliness in Medieval France, eds. Daniel O’Sullivan and Laurie Shepard (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2013), 183–200.

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Scheludko, Dmitri, ‘Die Marienlieder in der altprovenzalischen Lyrik’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 36 (1935), 29–48.

Secor, John, ‘The Planctus Mariae in Provençal Literature: a Subtle Blend of Courtly and Religious Traditions’, in The Spirit of the Court: Selected Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the International Courtly Literature Society, eds., Glyn Burgess and Robert Taylor (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1985), 321-6.

Spaggiari, Barbara, ed., ‘La “poesia religiosa anonima” catalana o occitana’, Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa 7 (1977), 117–350.



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