the Carmel

Last year of Thérèse's life

Charcoal made by Céline for the'Appeal to little souls. The work is reversed; Orion can be seen on the right.

September-December 1896

A chronology is similar to a pointillist painting, this technique used at the end of the XXe century juxtaposing small dots of paint to bring out the subject. This is somewhat what we are trying to do here for the last year of Thérèse's life, bringing together only a few events from these intense last months of the young Carmelite. A chronology of this last year of Thérèse's life reveals two similar tendencies:

- at the physical level it is awful
- on a spiritual level it is awful

One trend feeds the other and vice versa, it's a fight to the death.

On a spiritual level it is awful

Let us briefly recall the Easter season of 1896, Thérèse will evaluate in these terms in June 1897 (cf . Ms C 31 r):
« He sent me the proof which was to mix a salutary bitterness to all my joys. »
This night that she will describe in January 1897 to Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustin in these terms:
« I don't believe in eternal life, it seems to me that after this mortal life there is nothing. I cannot express to you the darkness in which I am immersed ». Memories of a Holy Friendship, No. 12.

Physically it's awful.

These declarations are accompanied by the first hemoptysis [blood spitting] of Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday evening, April 2, 1896.

002-couple la-neele

Thérèse informs Sister Marie de la Trinité, nursing assistant and Mother Marie de Gonzague, her prioress. She turns to Francis la Néele, husband of Jeanne Guérin since the 1er October 1890 (opposite a photo of the couple).

He is called by Mother Marie de Gonzague because it is believed that with him the secret will be better kept in the event of disastrous news. He examines his cousin by marriage through the communion grid and wonders if it is not a small vessel broken at the back of the throat...


Thérèse continues to work within the community. Here are the jobs she held during her last year of life.

She is sacristan :

Thérèse is assistant to Sister Marie of the Angels in the sacristy since March 1896. She had spent 2 years there from February 1891 to February 1893. Her job is to prepare everything necessary for worship, as seen in this painting by Sister Marie du Saint-Esprit: the ornaments, vases, liturgical vestments and materials needed for the celebrations, the preparation of incense and altar bread. The altar bread is baked by another sister, at the time it is Sister Marie-Philomene.

Thérèse has been in the lingerie since March 1896

She is there at her request. She convinced Mother Marie de Gonzague to let her work with Sister Marie of St Joseph, a nun whom others find difficult, alternately elated then depressed, and very angry.

Mother Marie de Gonzague and Mother Geneviève tried for a long time to balance him out, but it was Thérèse who helped him the most, as she was attached to him from before he entered. Indeed, when Thérèse was 9 years old, Marie de St Joseph had met her in the parlor in 1882 and had offered her a autographed picture : "To my sweet little Thérèse!" Kindness has passed through the years: Marie de St Joseph was then 38 years old and Thérèse 23. In March, therefore, with the complicity of Mother Marie de Gonzague, Thérèse tried to bring her out of her melancholy by assisting her in the lingerie.

"If you only knew how to forgive him", she would say to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, according to her Ordinary Trial testimony, how worthy of pity! It is not her fault if she is badly gifted." Sister Marie de St Joseph left the Carmel in 1909, at the request of the new prioress Mother Marie-Ange, who demanded from Dr La Néele a medical certificate justifying the removal from the community for severe neurasthenia.

Paint job:

Finally, Thérèse still helps out on occasion Sister St John the Baptist topaint job for illuminating images, and perhaps also a little work on stoles: the monastery sold both.

As you can see on the map of the monastery, the location of the sacristy is easy for a person who has respiratory problems. For the lingerie, you have to go up a floor, like going to your cell. And we have to set up another one for the use of paint, which is in the attic of the linen room. Remember that none of these places is heated. 

September 1896

It was on September 7 that Thérèse began her 10-day private retreat (the last), a retreat that would lead to a very dense exchange of correspondence with Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, and would culminate in the creation of what would be called the Manuscript B, of which we see here the famous passage from folio 3 verso. It is the trace of this intense light on his vocation.


And on September 18, Thérèse fully resumes living together, with all the constraints of the schedule. That is to say, get up at a quarter to 5 for prayer from 5 to 6 o'clock, with all the other observances and activities of the day like all its sisters until bedtime, around 23 p.m. See here theschedule time.

October 1896

From October 8 to 15, 1896, it is the annual retreat of the community. Each year, the community lives a time of retreat together, with a preacher who will stimulate its walk in following Christ. This year the preacher is the Father Godefroid Madelaine, mondaye abbey, 80 km west of Lisieux. He had just spent June 22-24 to preach a triduum, three days to prepare the sisters for the grace of the exceptional jubilee granted that year to the Catholics of France, in honor of the 14th centenary of the baptism of Clovis in Reims.

Total credo

Thérèse has already met him and knows him a little. She therefore dared during the community retreat to confide in him her doubts against faith. The Father advises him to wear the creed always on his heart. A very material, very physical solution. Thérèse obeys and chooses to write the text with her blood (click on the picture on the left).

On October 21, Thérèse wrote the first letter of a series of 11 letters toAbbe Belliere who resurfaced after his military service - to Latvia. And ten days later, on October 31, 1896, the first courier from China arrived from Father Roulland, the second missionary brother for whom Thérèse was responsible. Thérèse's relationship with these two young men will be very important to her until her death: by writing to them, she defines and understands herself in the terrible things she experiences. He writes to her, among other things, the great dates of his life. (read here), and Thérèse is amazed by its dates, more precisely by that of September 8, 1890, when she made her profession and when he, on the same day, received confirmation of his vocation to Notre Dame de la Délivrande.

November 1896

On November XNUMX, Thérèse responds to Father Roulland and she asks him for a relic in advance: a lock of hair! He complies nicely, and the relic was kept by the community after Thérèse's death.

And to remain within the same framework of missionary life, it was during this month of November 1896 that the Carmel of Saigon, founded by Lisieux in 1861, called for reinforcements. Photo of the courtyard on the right.


Thérèse would like this request to concern her, because she thinks she has a missionary vocation, and her prioress and her community are convinced of this. His departure is planned, but to get a sign from God, the community begins a Novena à Theophane Venard for this purpose from 21 to 30 November. During the novena, Thérèse reads and copies extracts from the Life of Théophane Venard, which we have in full on the site.

It is above all her letters to her family that fascinate her: “I am interested and touched more than I can say! “, she confided later in a letter to Roulland of March 19, 1897 (to Latvia).

The community continues to pray the novena to obtain a sign supporting the eventual departure of Thérèse for Saigon. However, during the novena, Thérèse began to cough again. So it's a sign. There was also another sign that the sisters may not have been able to read: just before the novena, on November 4, 1896, a receptionist sister died of tuberculosis at the age of 33: Sister Marie Antoinette. The language of his circular written following his death uses the expression chest disease. Au 19e century, the word tuberculosis spread terror, the disease being the cause of 1 in 7 deaths in Europe, 150,000 per year in France and one per week in Lisieux in 1897.

TH sacristan

Still, the community understands that Thérèse will not go to Vietnam. We have a picture taken of this slightly disoriented Therese around the time she realizes that "the scabbard is probably not as strong as the sword", as she writes very colorfully in her LT 221 .

Thérèse presents this face to us in November 1896, when her family - sisters and cousin - amused themselves by making two views of the sacristans at work. See both pictures TH-39 and TH-40.

Sainte-Therese-de-Lisieux 40

Coincidence: the sacristans precisely asked Thérèse for a poem that month. It is Sister Marie-Philomène who asks for it in the name of all the sacristans. Marie-Philomène was the head of the altar bread workshop and in the sacristy itself, we found Sister Marie des Anges and Thérèse.

Thérèse offers them her poetry no. 40The Sacristans of Carmel. "Heaven, she writes there, oh supreme mystery, is hidden..." But this is lived in "a celestial and profound peace that Jesus makes us savor, even though we have to struggle every day" (stanza 8).

December 1896

With the winter cold, Thérèse's health did not improve during the month of December. Mother Marie de Gonzague orders the installation of a good heater for Thérèse's cell: it is a real little oven (pictured right).

Angle plate Alexande-Damase-lt

December 3,  Dr de Corniere comes to examine Therese. He was for years the doctor of the community, which he treated for free. He only cared for the young Thérèse since July 1896. He ordered frictions and it was Céline, who acted as a second nurse, who ensured Thérèse's frictions with a horsehair belt.

De Cornière also orders the 3 December placement of a blister. It is a poultice based on cantharides, which causes the skin to rise, and what is just underneath - also lifting, as it was believed then, the internal evil - diverting it from the inside of the body to bring it towards the outside.

"Take care to clean the place where you want to apply it, press it on the skin, fix it there by means of adhesive plaster and retain everything by means of a towel. A blister has produced its effect when, lifting it up reveals one or more large blisters. In this case, the blister is lifted, the blister is pierced to allow the liquid in it to drain out, and a dressing is applied. It takes ten to twelve hours to obtain the effect indicated above."

Jacques Nauroy in Pharmacy History Review, 73rd year, N. 265, 1985. pp. 113-115.

As the blister must be applied for 12 hours, when Thérèse has one placed, she takes her meals in the cell. She then occupies her last cell of which we see opposite the bed and the small bench.

Marie Guérin describes all this to her father letter from December 4, 1896 by comparing Thérèse to a beggar:

"This beggar eats the dishes on your table, which the venerable matron, your wife, does her best to find, delicate and appetizing dishes. This miserable beggar had a blister on his chest yesterday because of his state of suffering."

Sr Marie of the Eucharist to her father, December 4, 1896

We learn in this letter that Thérèse was authorized to have a special diet.

December 6 Mother Agnès asks about Diana vaughan writing to Uncle Isidore, in an innocent postscript: Do you have new documents on D. Vaughan? (lLetter of December 6, 1896). This shows us that Mother Agnès is very sensitive to the question. In August 1896 a German Jesuit, Fr. Grüber, declared that Diana's texts were certainly a montage. Another Jesuit, French this time, published on November 1st a first article in the review Studies saying the same thing.

On December 18, the Catholic Review of Coutances publishes an analysis of Cardinal Parrochi, Vicar of His Holiness, which states that Diana appears to be a fictional person. A year ago, this same cardinal wrote to Taxil (photo on the right, at two different ages) December 16, 1895: "Your conversion is one of the most magnificent triumphs of grace that I know. I am reading your Memoirs at this moment, which are of thrilling interest.."

Leo Taxil

While the outcome of this mystification is being plotted in the shadows, Thérèse continues to write and another poem will follow in December, poetry requested by Sister Saint John of the Cross and possibly dated 8 December, the anniversary of his taking the habit. She is a very withdrawn sister, not very expansive, who found that as soon as she arrived, " Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus is extraordinary, she shows us all! This woman had the gift of recognizing and admiring in all the Sisters the qualities and talents of which she believed herself to be lacking.

It is therefore quite natural that she asks the poet of the community to express her thoughts in verse, which Thérèse succeeds in shaping into a poem entitled "How I want to love", PN 41.

Thérèse also remains very attentive with her difficult laundrywoman, Sister Marie de Saint-Joseph, in whose service she voluntarily put herself. We have two little notes written for her dating from December 1896, which reveal to us the inner life of Thérèse:

How naughty it is to spend one's time moping, instead of falling asleep on the Heart of Jesus!... If the night frightens the little child, if he complains of not seeing the One who carries him , that he closes his eyes, that he voluntarily makes the sacrifice that is asked of him and then that he waits for sleep... by keeping himself thus peaceful, the night that he will no longer look at will not be able to frighten him , and soon calm if not joy will be reborn in his little heart. Is it too much to ask of the little child to close his eyes?... not to struggle against the chimeras of the night?... No, it's not too much and the little child will abandon himself, he will believing that Jesus is wearing it, he will consent not to see him and leave behind the sterile fear of being unfaithful (a fear that does not befit a child). signed (an ambassador)

Therese, to Latvia
ticket given to other people and miraculously returned to the Carmel of Lisieux in 2011.

Little A. [ambassador] doesn't want to jump out of the basket, but he's there to show Heaven to the little Child. ; he wants all his looks, all his delicacies to be for Jesus. So he would be very happy to see the little Child. to deprive oneself of consolations that are too childish and unworthy of a missionary and a warrior... I love my pE very much.. and Jesus loves him even more.

Therese, to Latvia

In addition, she composes a poem for him, perhaps as a Christmas present: PN 42 "Child, you know my name" which Sister Marie of St Joseph copies with great care. She is touched by Thérèse's attentions.

But the most beautiful gift that Thérèse will give him for Christmas is told in Ms C, 13r. It will be, on a somewhat boring recreation day, to let Sister Marie de St Joseph go and act as third party in her place to receive, at the door of the workers, the fir branches for the decoration of the crib. Sister Thérèse of St Augustin is porter, she asks for help with the branches, and Thérèse lets Marie de St Joseph, 15 years older, get up first.


Christmas is coming. Thérèse's last Christmas. We see opposite a wax Child Jesus offered by the Guérins who enchanted the novitiate. Thérèse thinks of continuing her training with young people. On Christmas Eve, Céline receives a letter from the Blessed Virgin to Latvia where the Blessed Virgin asks for help with accommodation  "If you want to endure in peace the ordeal of not pleasing yourself, you will give me sweet asylum, it is true that you will suffer since you will be at the door of your home, but do not be afraid, the more you you will be poor, the more Jesus will love you! »


And Mary of the Trinity also receives a letter, but for her it is a letter from Jesus himself to Latvia, who offers to play spinning top with him: If you want, you'll be my top. I give you one as a model!

The Carmel had received trinkets to send to the missions, including a spinning top. See the photo of the tiny object on the left, less than 6 cm high. Several sisters had never seen one, so Marie de la Trinité gave them a demonstration at recess. The spinning top will be kept. 

On December 25 in the evening, we will sing a poem by Thérèse composed for the occasion: PN 43  "The Aviary of the Child Jesus." It is a long poem of 15 stanzas, sung to the tune of At the Nightingale.


As we can see, Thérèse does not stay in bed with her fever and her exhaustion. She never stops; the day after Christmas, she wrote Abbé Bellière a long letter (to Latvia) where she delivers a bit of what she lives:

"It is very consoling to think that Jesus, the Strong God, knew our weaknesses, that he trembled... you will kindly continue to pray for me who am not an angel as you seem to believe, but a poor a little imperfect Carmelite who, despite her poverty, has, like you, the desire to work for the glory of God."

Thérèse to Abbé Bellière, LT 213

The 28 December, three days later, the feast begins again on the occasion of the Holy Innocents, a feast which was then celebrated in the Carmel by asking young people to deploy their creativity. The novitiate sings a poem by Thérèse at the boiler. For once, we have a spontaneous creation by Thérèse, without special request, featuring her deceased brothers and sisters: PN 44 "To my Little Brothers in Heaven". It is rather a powerful poetic complement to an image she had created in September, during her famous retreat which generated Manuscript B. She had then made a moving keepsake picture of his 4 brothers and sisters who died in infancy, with their photos.

On the evening of this feast, Agnes of Jesus tells us, Mother Marie de Gonzague would have been worried that, 3 days apart, only poems by Thérèse were sung. Could this be dangerous for maintaining Thérèse's pride?

Let us observe the description of a combat attitude in this poem n° 44:

4. Children...
You are without fights reached glory
The Savior has won the victory for you
Charming winners!

We find this even more in the prayer 17, which also dates from late 1896, inspired by an image depicting Joan of Arc:

Lord, God of armies who told us: "I did not come to bring peace but the sword"... arm me for the fight, I burn to fight for your glory, but I beg you, strengthen my courage .... "It is You alone who are my shield, it is You, Lord, who raise my hands to war... I understand what battle you intend me to fight, it is not on the fields battle that I will fight.... My sword is none other than Love, with it I will chase the stranger from the kingdom... I will therefore fight for your Love until the evening of my life...»

Thérèse sketches an account, with the images of the poem and the prayer, of the physical and spiritual combat that she faces herself. At the end of 1896, Thérèse understood this personal struggle in the light of that of Joan of Arc, which she had studied well a few years ago thanks to the writing of her two plays (RP 1 et RP 3).