the Carmel

The finances of the Carmel of Lisieux (1888-1897)

trunk locks with three keys
the three locks of the chest with three keys

Analysis by Claude Langlois

A carmel can be considered as a closed community made up of women who must be housed, clothed, fed, cared for, buried, and whose main activity, the life of prayer, has a cost, from the maintenance of the chapel to the payment of the chaplain and the sexton, even if this can generate, on the part of believers convinced of the spiritual usefulness of the sisters, an esteem which translates into various financial rewards. They are also groups of women who divide the daily activities of life among themselves, even if the lay sisters are more directly assigned to household chores, but who cannot do without the various trades, especially those in the building industry, to one-off or regular interventions. Living in seclusion, the Carmelites still had to use, for their relationship with the outside world, intermediaries called port sisters, and therefore also ensured their upkeep.

The Carmel of Lisieux, like the vast majority of other French Carmels, is an unrecognized community, therefore without legal existence, which means that, as a legal person, it cannot own real estate nor can it receive donations or bequest in his own name. It therefore needs to find legal tricks to circumvent this situation, especially since women, by virtue of the civil code, do not have the legal means of their economic independence. The most common way to do this is to use a proxy they should trust. On the other hand, as the monastic vows - above all that of poverty - are no longer recognized as under the Old Regime where this led to civil death, each sister retains in principle the management of her property, the possibility of receiving gifts, to inherit from her family and to benefit the community in which she intends to live and die. This lack of legal status leads to difficulties which can, in extreme cases, be settled before the courts, particularly when a sister leaves the community - or is expelled from it - and claims her own property, including all or part of her dowry. .

We should also add that the choice to examine the accounts of the Carmel of Lisieux during Thérèse years alone – i.e. ten years, from 1888 to 1897 – may seem arbitrary with regard to the lifespan of a community which was founded in 1838 and which benefited in France until 1914 from a long period of economic stability and internal peace, if we put aside the apparently limited effects of the war of 1870 or those of occasional financial crashes. These ten years at the end of the XNUMXth century nevertheless constitute a sufficiently long period to identify what the material life of the sisters is made up of, but also to identify the causes of the variations in expenditure and income from one year to the other.

Last introductory remark. If this accounting documentation is relatively detailed and therefore delivers elements of information taken into account here, it is unequally detailed according to the practices of the various depositary sisters and it constitutes only one element among others to appreciate in all its aspects the life community material. It provides incidental information on capital movements that need to be better known and on donors that could be the subject of more systematic investigation.

And Thérèse in all this? This is first of all the framework of a daily life shared by her with all the Carmelites. But even more these ten years count largely for three of the Martin sisters, Marie du Sacré-Coeur, who made her profession in 1888, Thérèse of the Child Jesus, in 1890, and Sister Geneviève, in 1896. By thus officially entering the life religious, the three sisters bring their dowry to the community. These years are also important for these three as well as for their eldest in religion, Mother Agnès, since the death of their father in 1894 made them the heirs of four-fifths - the other going to Léonie - of a large fortune. family. From which the Carmel will benefit immediately.

Ten years of expenditure and revenue (1888-1897)

Let's get to the heart of the matter by first examining the budgets for the ten years 1888-1897.

Table 1 Community annual expenses and income.

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1 Not including income from a capital of 30000 F - donation of 10000 F and dowry of 20000 F - placed in action, which represents an income of 1200/1300 per year.

2 In a note, “In this year 1890, my Sr Emmanuel received a sum of 7599.85 from the estate of her Aunt Miss Adèle Louinau. This sum was invested in the same year by Mr. Loiselle. »

3 Year in serious deficit (10000 f) but we dipped into the "cash" which serves as a reserve to settle expenses.

4 Remains in box at the end of 1893, 967,14. The difference between income and expenditure is lower, 384 f.

5 In note “On the 2000fr. of Mrs. Boucher this year 1895, we owe 400 Masses after her death - On the 1000 fr. received in 1893 we owe 150 Masses (50 having been said during his lifetime) » This is a donation with intentions of Masses at the expense of the community.

6 Including 6500 f of Martin “annuities”, which represents the interest of the investments from the inheritance of Mr. Martin which went to the Carmelites.

7 The 6500 f of income from the Martin inheritance are included in the accounts.

First observation: the Thérèse years are contrasting years. If we take the average of the expenses – it would be the same overall for the receipts which by necessity most often respond to it, come what may – we see that the average budget – of more than 28000 F – is in reality a pure fiction. . During the first five years, it fluctuates between 32000 and 43000 F; for the last five, between 15000 and 22000 F. Do the nuns have to face, in the last years, less charges? It's possible. Have they changed their accounting calculation? This also likely. The first explanation that comes to mind to explain this large variation in expenditure is the existence of costly work, located at the beginning of the period. Hence the interest of looking at the place of construction costs in the annual expenses of the Carmel.

Table 2 : Construction costs in the annual expenses of the carmel

        Construction total expenditure %

1888 8030 31900 25,2

1889 19600 43400 45,2

1890 5120 37400 13,7

1891 3590 34700 10,3

1892 600 38700 1,6

1893 1480 17700 8,4

1894 2530 21600 11,7

1895 3700 23500 15,7

1896 1250 14600 8,6

1897 3470 22200 15,6

NB: We have counted the expenses of the following trades: contractor, architect, mason, upholsterer, painter, roofer, carpenter, while knowing that certain interventions are sometimes maintenance.

In fact, these expenses calling on contractors or even an architect as well as various building trades, are at a high level in 1888 (25%) and even more so in 1889 (45%), the year when the whole of these expenses is at its highest. Subsequently, except for one year, these expenses for maintenance or minor construction stabilized at around 10%. To understand these expenses, significant at the beginning of the period, it must be remembered that conventual life presupposes that the nuns, but also their chaplain and the port sisters, have an appropriate living environment. The Carmel of Lisieux was founded in 1838 and it is only gradually that the sisters have such premises at their disposal, in particular a chapel open to the public. Half a century after their foundation, the sisters still have to consider a costly campaign of works. In 1900, they finally had suitable premises but, according to the major tax survey on the property of the congregations – the famous billion! - the real estate capital of the Carmel of Lisieux is modest both with regard to the other female communities of the diocese and to that of the older Carmels, located in large cities.

           However, these extraordinary expenses alone do not explain the sudden change in the size of the budgets. This took place between 1892, a year when construction costs were almost nil but overall expenses were still high (38700 F) and 1893, a year when these fell by more than half (17700 F), although the carmel continued to do some work at a smaller height, less than 10% of a more modest budget. The main reason for the deflating of expenditure in 1893 stems from a pure accounting operation. In 1892, 18.000 francs were withdrawn. of the Carmel fund, which corresponds to an unspent sum, the origin of which should be known. It is entrusted to the manager of the fortune of the Carmelites, Mr. Loiselle, who receives an annual remuneration in the form of gifts (from 300 to 100 F per year) so that he places this capital in annual income, immediately reintegrated into the receipts. in the form of interest from financial products.

Ordinary expenses, extraordinary expenses

As we can see, this rich documentation deserves to be used, but with care. Let's start with the most easily identifiable, expenses and more precisely ordinary expenses. To know what the daily life of the Carmel is made of, it is necessary to examine the items of expenditure in normal years. We therefore chose those of 1893, the first year of clearer management, and of 1897, when some additional expenses had to be met for the wall of the cemetery and the chaplain's accommodation. We then see a hierarchy appear which is found from one year to the next and which reflects the costs of the daily life of the Carmelites.

Table no. 3 Main items of expenditure                  

                                                               1893 1897

Food 6367 36% 5651 25%   

Withdrawals and donations 3743 21% 4501 20%

External contractors 2014 11% 4173 19%

Worship fees 1961 11% 3209 14%

Operation 2077 12% 2247 10%

Financing of the work of the sisters 1244 7% 1707 8%

Clothing 195 1% 366 2%                

Total expenditure 17731 22249

An initial remark: if the annual budgets show the stability of the main items, they also record expenditure which is not visible in these more global estimates, such as those for the modernization of lighting by the gradual introduction of gas for collective rooms and for the making of hosts. But not yet, for the individual cells, as shown by Thérèse's remark on the small (oil) lamps that the sisters bring to go back to their room and get light (Man C). Expenditures have been grouped under seven broad headings, some of which are self-evident but others require explanation. The one called levies and donations includes, in addition to two important items (taxes and payment of annuities), alms, gratuities to benefactors, payment of the sexton's rent or occasional aid, as at the major seminary in 1897. operation everything related to the daily life of the community: lighting, heating, laundry, hardware, postage, bookstore, but also infirmary (mainly pharmacy, high expense in 1897, the year of the death of Thérèse and the chaplain). THE external speakers concern the trades that are called to work in the Carmel, but also – this point can be discussed – the financing of the tourières whose expenses are clearly distinguished from those of the sisters. The main expenses of worship fees consist of the sacristan's salary (up from 600 to 675 F) and the chaplain's fees (800 F in 1896, but 1400 F in 1897, the year of his death). But we must not forget the Mass fees for the deceased Carmelite nuns, especially those of the community. Thus in 1897, for Sister Thérèse and for Abbé Youf, the chaplain of the Carmel, who died at the same time as the young Carmelite. THE financing of the work of the sisters includes all purchases of raw materials, including fabrics, flour or equipment, useful to the community to manufacture products sold outside.

From one year to the next, the hierarchy of major positions remains stable. In the lead, it will not surprise, food for more than a third (36%) when the Carmel has no costs on its buildings, a quarter, in the opposite case. The second item of expenditure (around 20%) consists of levies and donations. It is necessary to emphasize here the weight of the tax specific to congregations, increased at the end of the 9th century (1893% in 7) but also the obligation to pay annuities, costly counterpart of previous donations or charges forming part of various legacies. (1893% in 10). In third place are three items which each represent at least 1891% of expenditure: the interventions of craftsmen in the Carmel, stabilized at this level from XNUMX; worship costs; current operating costs. In fourth position, the cost of financing the work of the sisters: these, as we will see later, in the receipts, derive income from their work, but this work presupposes capital outlays recorded here. And finally, in a ridiculously low place, we find the expenditure on clothing. In fact, purchases are made according to needs, so in some years this item is higher, but it is still very small; the clothes are actually made on site with the purchased fabric. It is also true that the sisters arrive with a trousseau. The poverty of the Carmel manifests itself there mainly, in a much greater type of expenditure in bourgeois families.

What do Carmelites eat? The attached table gives us the details for the two years previously selected, to which we have added the first year of the budget to better assess any changes.

Table no. 4 Annual food expenditure (in francs)

                                          1888 1893 1897

Bread 2113 1544 1521

Milk 594 682 706

Fish 167 698 168    

Meat 651

Butter, cream 430 513 562

Vegetables 353

Eggs 551 413 441

Beverage (wine, cider, beer) 334 554 126

Oil and seasonings 181 232 22

Cheese 226 152 200

Soup 204 116 174

Stewed fruit 26 118 54

Sugar and brown sugar, honey 45 115 150

It would be necessary to be able to take into account own resources (eggs from the chicken farm) and probably also food donations. We know those of MM. Martin and Guérin by the correspondence published around Thérèse. There may be others. Be that as it may, expenditure shows a certain stability on basic products: in ten years the community does not seem to have changed its eating habits much at a time when France no longer experiences major price fluctuations on basic products. first necessity. However, some variations may surprise. Thus the cost of fish, an essential product for a community subject to perpetual lean. It is weak in 1888; from 1889 to 1893, it remained high (more than 600 F) then it gradually decreased from 1894 to 1897. Should this fall be attributed to a sudden collapse in prices? Similarly, the beverage budget (cider, beer, wine) varies a lot, which for wine can be linked to storage from one year to the next, as also for oil.

Apart from these remarks, few surprises. Bread, as for the common French, is the first food item. Declining however: until 1892, the expenses of the baker exceeded 1800 F; from 1893, they are between 1550 and 1400 F. The price of bread has stabilized in France, consumption is probably down in Carmel. Staple foods remain milk, fish, butter, eggs, pulses. But also meat: for the youngest who are not lean or for sick or temporarily weakened sisters. Items that are less costly or consume less: cheeses, soups, fruits and compotes. Sugar would rather be on the rise, but we do not yet see the dawn of coffee for the chaplain, like chocolate. Proper food, food budget that should be compared with those of the various social classes while taking into account the number of mouths to feed.

How does the Carmel of Lisieux live?

Where do the Carmelites find their resources? The "revenue" component of the annual budgets should help us to understand it better. But it is much more difficult to exploit. If the items of expenditure are immediately identified, the identification of resources, simply by looking at even detailed accounts, remains a perilous exercise. Two examples. Among the receipts of 1888, one notices 625 F of rent paid by eight people. But in what capacity does the Carmel collect these rents? Buildings owned by sisters? Or devious forms of rent linked to dowries? In the recipes of 1890, what to include under the headings: taken from the bank of France (4000 F) and At Mr. Loiselle's (2700 F)? Undoubtedly the withdrawal, for the use of the community, of funds invested or simply deposited. But how big were these reserves and where did they come from? It is therefore impossible to be satisfied, as for expenses, with reconstituting categories of income. It is advisable to proceed by reasoning from the elements provided by these annual accounts.

Ideally, the contemplatives were annuitants: like married women of the nobility or the bourgeoisie, their families had to bring a dowry paid to the Carmel at the time of profession as well as a pension during the novitiate and a substantial sum for living expenses. dress and profession. An example, taken from the receipts of 1890. Uncle Guérin, as guardian of the Martin girls, paid, that year, a pension of 500 F which corresponded to the maintenance of Thérèse as long as she was a novice, of profession, which amount to 400 F and finally a dowry of 10.000 F. The dowries, for the oldest, were paid in the form of an annual annuity as can still be seen in 1888 for six Carmelites who made profession between 1873 and 1882 (the sisters Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Aimée de Jésus, Anne du Sacré-Coeur - de Saïgon -, Saint-Jean de la Croix, Marie de Saint Joseph) and who provide annual incomes of 300 to 500 F. This practice seems to be gradually disappearing in favor of the payment of a capital which will then be invested. The dowries, of which we find traces in these budgets, oscillate between 8000 F and 20000 F. To become a choir nun, one must belong to wealthy families. The poorest bring their labor forces, as lay brothers. In principle, the dowry produces an annual income which should support the sister: concretely, for a capital of 10000 F. the annual income is 300 to 400 F. For twenty choir sisters (a maximum), these resources would represent around 7000 F. However, during the ten “Thérèse” years, the annual budget of the Carmel is close to 29000 F for real expenses estimated at 25000 F. The capital of the dowries generates income equivalent to a quarter of the annual resources. However, inheritances must be added to the dowries. Thus in the budget of 1890, one can read: “My sister Emmanuelle received a sum of 7599.85 f. coming from the estate of his aunt Miss Adèle Louineau", an inheritance which is almost equivalent to a professed dowry.

A word should be said here about investments made from available money, unused donations, dowries and inheritances. There are fewer and fewer annuities on individuals, but rather on local authorities such as the town of Trouville or Lisieux, State loans and also from foreign States, such as the famous Russian loans. And investments in shares and bonds on various companies. The Carmel received, for example, in 1888, 470 F from the coupons of two banks, the Crédit Foncier and the Société Générale, and 440 F from various railway companies, first and foremost, the Northern railways. The same year, the main financial source – ie 1557 f – came from Russian loans and Panama Canal shares. The following year, there was no longer any question of Panama, the crash of the famous Compagnie de Lesseps (1889) affected 85000 savers, including the Carmel of Lisieux, which lost 500 F in income. As for the Russian loans, they will hold... until the Revolution of 1917. The Carmel entered the era of rentier capitalism. With so-called good family man investments. Sometimes risky, often profitable.

But, it will be said, the Carmelites work to live. The fruit of their labor represents between 15 and 20% of revenue in normal years. It is not negligible, but it is less than the income from annuities (dowry and inheritance) and it is insufficient to meet the expenses. The following table shows the total amount of resources that the Carmel derives from the activity of the sisters and the share taken by the most important, the making of altar bread:

Table 5 Carmel recipes and the making of altar bread

Total revenue. PA PA/TR CF BN

1888 2629 965 37% 281 684

1893 3738 2397 64% 5321              1865

1894 3887 2163 56% 508 1655

1895 3527 2295 65% 620 1675

1896 3616 2530 70% 9562              1574

1897 3158 2205 70% 640 1565

1 Two stations, flour and gas. – 2 Purchase of a bread cutting machine (270 F).

PA altar bread; TR: total resources; CF manufacturing cost; BN Net profit.

The period 1888-1897 shows a modest increase in own resources (maximum in 1893-1894) but this is not maintained. The resources came in 1888 for a large part from needlework, altar ornaments or chasubles (1351 F). But these, over the years, become less important. The sale of incense or instruments of penance continues but remains limited, even anecdotal. New “products” such as the painting of pious images or the sale of farmyard animals have little financial impact. Most of the revenue (two-thirds from 1893) comes from the making of hosts, called in budgets “altar bread”. It is not for nothing that Céline photographs the nuns engaged in this remunerative activity.

The detail of the accounts shows the buyers, religious communities who obtain their supplies either directly, or through benefactors, or even by direct purchase from the tourières. But this production generates fixed costs, the raw material (flour) and energy (gas for cooking); it even required investments such as the acquisition in 1896 of a bread-cutting machine. In total, when the Carmel sells hosts for 100 F, it derives a net profit of 72 F. Such profitability is made possible because the sisters work for free! This is the reason why the convents must choose marginal sectors where the sisters do not compete with commercial enterprises or only home workers, when they devote themselves to sewing. They are required to choose particular sectors, such as the manufacture of hosts, and to reach captive audiences, such as benefactors or religious communities, so as not to cause malicious accusations of illegal competition which would turn against them.

The Carmel must therefore find at least half of its income elsewhere. It is structurally loss-making, like large cultural companies today. Lisieux was no exception; the same goes for all the Carmels in the 2th and 4th centuries. The Carmelites must therefore rely on external donations. But in what form? Very little, on the loose change of quests or novenas, which represent between 1888 and 1891% of resources. For the most part, they live off donations from benefactors whom they find in the entourage – families and relations – of the sisters and in the network of relations that the Carmel has gradually built up, particularly in aristocratic circles. There are indeed many Marquises and Countesses among the benefactresses, but none is as lastingly generous as the Marquise de Briges who, for the four years 56000-7.000, ensured alone, with 1888 F in donations (19.000 F in 1889; 10.000 F in 1890; 20.000 F in 1891; 35 F in 1861), 1891% of annual revenue. Now she had been helping the Carmel since XNUMX and she did so until her death in XNUMX, increasing her generosity year after year so that in total "all the donations put together from this insignia benefactress could well be valued at a hundred of a thousand francs!

The Carmel, with good reason, did not intend to link its future to a single generosity, even if it were apparently without limit. Obviously, in 1889, to face the last phase of work, he intends to solicit all his relations, lay benefactors but also the other Carmels. With success ? Apparently since the cost of the work amounted that year to some 20.000 F and the sums collected reached nearly 25.000 F. However, two elements must be taken into account which put this advantageous comparison into perspective. The alms of the previous year already reached almost 9000 F; the increase in donations, of 14.000 F, does not cover the total cost of the work; and moreover of the additional 14.000 f, 12.000 come from the Marquise de Briges alone.

In fact, this appeal for funds, which offered the Carmel a breath of fresh air, is, for us, the perfect opportunity to identify the two networks on which the Carmel can count and to appreciate at what level this one-off aid is located. . The first network is that of the 41 lay benefactors. Rather benefactors, they represent more than 80% of the people identified. Among the benefactors, we easily identify the families of nuns such as Madame de Virville, probably the mother of Marie de Gonzague, or Monsieur de Chaumontel, the father of Marie des Anges, as well as Monsieur Guérin, Mesdemoiselles [Léonie and Céline] Martin and Mesdemoiselles [Jeanne and Marie] Guérin.

The financial aid provided by the Carmels is lower (1352 F) even compared to the lay benefactors alone (4290 F) without the said Marquise. It is doubly limited. Firstly, in number: the 26 donor Carmels represent 15% of some 130 French Carmels; then in financing: out of all the Carmels who contribute their donation, half testify to their solidarity with a symbolic sum (between 5 and 15 F). In fact, four convents alone provide 70% of the contribution of the Carmelite family: three Parisian carmels, those of avenue de Messine (450 F), rue d'Enfer (235 F) and avenue de Saxony (150 F), to which is added the Carmel of Rouen (100 F). Some of these Carmels are also regular contributors, such as the one in Paris on Avenue de Messine, which brought Lisieux 1250 F in donations between 1888 and 1897.

The Carmel of Lisieux tried to make a revival in 1894, doubtless in anticipation of new works, with less results than in 1889 since the lay contributors contributed less than 2000 F and the French Carmels less than 750 F. The geography of the donor Carmels has changed slightly: whereas in 1889 Lisieux benefited from aid only from the Carmels of northern France and the Atlantic coast, in 1894 we see the appearance of Nîmes, Avignon, Toulon, Agen, for significant donations (20 F), again Marseille and Lectoure, for a more symbolic participation.

Towards the end of the decade the financial situation of the convent seemed to improve. End of large construction expenses; surpluses from the 1889 appeal for funds; contribution of the dowry of newly professed. We saw the Carmel draw the consequences in 1892, the year when 18.000 F surplus were converted into regular income. The Carmel in the last years of Thérèse's life lived more and more largely on her income, as the following table shows.

Table 6: Towards an annuitant Carmel

                 Revenue Rev/Revenue Rev. Martin RevM/Recipes        

1888 6832 21%                                            

1893 6067 35%                                  

1894 5885 27%                                  

1895 11885 51% 6500 28%             

1896 12332 59% 6500 31%

1897 14237 65% 8723 39%

It should also be remembered that the annual financial income, of various origins, comes from unconsumed annual donations, dowries and inheritances. If we look at the last five years 1893-1897 for which the Carmel finds a more readable level of expenditure, the importance of financial resources goes from 30% in 1893-1894 to 50% in 1895, 59% in 1896, 65 % - nearly two-thirds of income - in 1897. Enough to look to the future with confidence, even if the unstable political context must force the community to consider the costs of a possible exile abroad. However, for the most part, this change comes from the dowries of the Martin daughters (Marie, Thérèse and Céline) and even more from the Martin inheritance (1894) whose income is taken into account from 1895: 6500 F in the budgets 1895 and 1896, which would come from a capital of more than 160.000 F for an average income of 4%, the equivalent of 16 dowries of 10.000 F. And these incomes from the Martins are still on the rise in 1897: that year , with more than 8700 f. of financial income, the Carmel then draws nearly 40% of its resources from the fortune of the Martin family. The exact year in which Thérèse died.

The Carmel lived, during the first four years Thérèse, on regular donations from the Marquise de Briges, and, for the last three, on the Martin heritage. Legitimate comparison, but different situations. A noble benefactress is replaced by a bourgeois heritage. One-off donations intended to balance the budgets give way to an assured annuity for the years to come. Advantages therefore. Possible drawbacks too: the generosity of a single benefactress did not weigh directly on the life of the Carmel; the important Martin heritage is the consequence of the presence of four sisters from the same family whose parents had made a fortune in lace and watchmaking, and had already converted their profits into profitable financial investments. And the management of the fortune by Uncle Guérin, since 1889, when Mr. Martin was put under guardianship for health reasons, had made it possible to preserve if not increase the fortune thus acquired by the fruits of the parents' work.

The historian, after having tried to understand what this accounting covers, asks himself unresolved and perhaps impertinent questions. Did the financial context of the Carmel remain a secret known only to the prioress and her council or did the sisters know about it, Thérèse in particular? How could the sisters simultaneously live the ideal of poverty and participate more and more in the benefits of financial capitalism? The rapid publication of theStory of a soul would it have been made so easily in a financial situation less dependent on the Martin family?