the Carmel


Community laundry

A big job

Laundry was generally provided by the lay sisters, who primarily took care of the domestic tasks of the monastery: cooking, cleaning, laundry. But the great laundry is such a job that the whole community is requisitioned outside the daily rhythm.  You have to know what the washes and detergents of the time represented! Thus, Thérèse wrote to M. Martin: “Your Diamant cannot write to you, because he is in heavy laundry, but that does not prevent him from thinking of you, my darling little Father. »  LT 58 of July 31, 1888. As the day is entirely taken up with laundry on these days, the regular activities are heavy: refectory, kitchen and washing up. Everyone has to try a little harder. Sr. Marie Emmanuel, for example, was known for the extras she did on laundry days, when everyone could see her sweeping and preparing the refectory alone, washing the bowls, helping in the kitchen, all with a spirit that could have put off the fatigue she imposed on herself. This tiredness of the laundry days is mentioned in the Yellow Notebook, where a Thérèse then exempted from common work recounts: Around one o'clock I said to myself: they are very tired in the laundry! And I prayed to the good Lord to relieve you all, so that the work would be done in peace, in charity. When I saw myself so ill, I felt joy at having to suffer like you. July 27, 1897 / 4

laundry technique

clog TH 40cm

We wash and it's ok?... Alas no: doing the laundry at the time meant first soaking the laundry, then washing, rinsing, draining, stretching, stretching and dampening (putting the damp laundry under weight ).

Work clothes for all: fitted dress covered with a washing apron, and clogs to protect the alpargates from water.

We start with soaking, in the stone tubs of the laundry room, in cold water with soap and ashes. The ashes indeed contain potash, which allows them to be used as a kind of soap.

soda crystals 5 francs
soap 120 fr.
ashes 15 fr.
sorrel salt 0fr.50
bleach 0fr. 20
starch 2fr. 40

After a good soaking time, we move on to the next step: washing or pouring, still in the laundry room. We rub the linen a little before putting it in the washing machine, a large double-bottomed iron vat set over a lighted fire. Boiling water is passed through the laundry, which seeps into the fabric and dissolves the stains that have resisted soaking.
The false bottom of the washing machine which prevents the laundry from burning.

After this wash, the next step is rinsing. We transport the wet linen to the washhouse which adjoins the laundry room to rinse it with cold water, brought from the Orbiquet by underground pipes passing through the Fleuriot property. This operation was immortalized by Céline, as can be seen in her two photos. The tools for the washhouse are the small wooden box protecting the knees from the water and the beater.


We start by rubbing the stains that remain and which then leave very well. Then we beat the laundry with the beaters to get the soap out. The linen is twisted very little, underlines the regulation of the lingerie, to wear it less.

The laundry is then hung on trestles around the washhouse to allow it to drain. This phase trestles required that these be well wrapped in large thick rags because of rust. The circles in the tub, the smallest nails in the laundry room could spoil the laundry. Rust stains were removed with sorrel salt.

It is only the next day that this drained linen is brought up to the attic of the linen room to be hung on the iron wires which cross the entire attic for drying.

But before the suspension, it is necessary to pull : we stretched out the still damp linen because at the time we only ironed the parts of the liturgy, the surplices for example, with irons heated on the gas stove for the use of the sacristans, as we can see on the right picture. This stretching phase led Thérèse to write one day to Sister Marie de Saint-Joseph: "Tomorrow we'll stretch our arms together!" » (to Latvia of Oct. 20-30, 1896) because stretching was hard work.


Once the laundry was half dry, a few specific pieces were put under the press between wooden planks: this is the weaving. Onne false in principle only the toques and the white veils, and a few other rare pieces.

There were nearly two hundred hats to be done: a lot of work, where Sr Aimée de Jesus was a specialist. For the final stage of the folding – during recess – Sr. Aimée brought to the community hats and veils so well stretched that the folding was three-quarters done.

talk and sing

Laundry day is a special day because we talk and we sing! It is indeed such a hard time to live for all that relaxation was necessary, which was very human. The custom of singing during long washing sessions in common has long been kept in the monastery. But Thérèse did not consider this time all the same as a vacation day, as Marie de la Trinité testifies in the Trial of the Ordinary: "One laundry day, I went to the laundry without hurrying, looking at garden flowers. Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus also went there, walking quickly. She soon passed me and said, "Is this how you hurry when you have children to feed and you have to work to support them?" And dragging me: "Come on, come with me and let's hurry, because if we have fun, our children will starve." » [1074]

Laundry and Weather

There were two big washes a year, in the spring and fall (Easter week and the week after October 15) and many small ones. As the laundry Rules booklet indicates, "the laundrywoman must, out of a spirit of poverty, only ask for the laundry to be done when the quantity of linen to be washed is sufficient to meet the quantity of fuel that requires the pouring of a wash... In winter, because of the harsh weather, we make sure that the first wash is finished before the extreme cold, and not to do the second until the severe frosts have stopped. If you lack a little linen between two, you try to make up for it by boiling it with lye in the boiler itself. » Ditto for Lent: we wash just before and just after « in order to avoid the sisters this great fatigue during the fast. The tunics, however, are washed fortnightly.

Everything is fine with the laundry when it is neither too hot nor too cold! Mother Geneviève, the foundress, who obtained many small miracles thanks to her filial prayer, always saved us good weather for our laundry, so first years of the Carmel of Lisieux, the people of the world came to ask well in advance what day we would do the laundry at the Carmel! During the winter, it is said that one morning of heavy washing, the cold being very intense, this good Mother went in anguish to the foot of the Tabernacle and during her absence, the frost ceased. The weather became so mild that it looked like spring.

This constraint of the weather has earned us an interesting exchange between Thérèse and Marie de la Trinité: "During the laundry, testifies the latter to the PO, one day, I asked her what was best: to go and rinse with water cold or stay in the laundry room to wash with hot water. She replied, “Oh! it's not hard to find out! When it costs you to go to cold water, it is a sign that it also costs others; so, go ahead; if on the contrary it is hot, preferably stay in the laundry room. By taking the worst places, one practices both mortification for oneself and charity for others, since one abandons the best to them. [1076v-1077r]

laundry around the world

The well-to-do families had their laundry washed outside, along the river, as Marie Guérin testifies writing to Léonie (March 14, 1889): she regularly visits Les Buissonnets in the absence of Céline and Léonie, playing the role of hostess, which includes welcoming laundresses who come to bring the laundry.


We have several paintings or sketches of washerwomen at work along a river signed by contemporary painters of Thérèse - but we also have the young Louis Martin at work in this drawing of September 5, 1854.

Drawing by Louis Martin

It was then in families as in the monastery: no washing machine or running water! Progress only came to Carmel when it came outside. Thus, it was not until 1938 that an electric pump was installed for the laundry room. What a relief! This halved the fatigue of washing. It is necessary to have known the old regime to really realize it.