Finances of the Lisieux Carmel (1888-1897)


serrures coffre a trois cles

the three locks of the three key safe

Analysis by Claude Langlois

A Carmel can be considered a closed community composed of women who must be housed, clothed, fed, cared for, buried, whose main activity, the prayer life, has a cost, from the maintenance of the chapel to the payment for the chaplain and sacristan, even if it can generate an esteem resulting in various financial rewards on the part of believers convinced of the spiritual usefulness of the sisters. This is also the group of women who divides up between them the daily activities of life, although the lay sisters are more directly assigned to housework, but cannot do without the various trades, including those of the building, maintenance, one time or regular. Living recluses, the Carmelites must still use for their link with the outside intermediaries called turn sisters, and thus also ensure their upkeep.

The Carmel of Lisieux, like the vast majority of other French Carmels, is an unrecognized community, so has no legal existence. This means that as a corporation, it cannot own real estate or cannot receive grants or bequests in its own name. It must therefore find legal tricks to work around this situation especially as women in Civil Code have no legal means of economic independence. The most common way to do this is to use an agent they put their trust in. In return, as monastic vows, primarily that of poverty, are no longer recognized as they were under the old regime where it entailed civil death; each sister retains in principle the management of her assets, the ability to personally receive gifts, to inherit from her family and to benefit the community in which she intends to live and die. This lack of legal status creates difficulties which may in extreme cases be resolved in the courts particularly when a sister leaves the community - or is sent away from it - and claims her own property, all or part of her dowry.

Let us add that the choice to examine the accounts of the Lisieux Carmel during the only Thérèse years - ten years from 1888 to 1897 - may seem arbitrary in terms of the life of a community that was founded in 1838 and which benefits in France until 1914 from a long period of economic stability and inner peace, if we put aside the apparently limited impact of the 1870 war or those of occasional financial crashes. These last ten years of the late nineteenth century nonetheless constituted a sufficiently long period to identify what the tangible life of the sisters consists of, but also to identify the causes of variations of expenditure and income from one year to the next.

Last introductory remark. If this accounting documentation is fairly detailed and therefore delivers elements of information taken into account here, it is unevenly detailed according to the practices of the various bursars and sisters; it is only one factor among others to appreciate all aspects of the tangible life of the community. It delivers incidentally timely information on the movement of capital which would need to be better known and donors who could be the subject of a more systematic investigation.

And Thérèse in all this? This is first part of daily life shared by her with all of the Carmelites. But even more, the ten years largely accounts for three of the Martin sisters, Marie of the Sacred Heart, who professes in 1888, Thérèse of the Child Jesus in 1890 and Sister Geneviève, in 1896. By entering life religious formally like this, the three sisters bring their dowry to the community. These years are also important for those three as well as 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 substantial fortune family. Of which Carmel immediately benefits.

Ten years of expenditure and revenue (1888-1897)

Enter into the heart of the subject by first examining the budgets of the ten years from 1888 to 1897.

Table n°1 Expenditures and annual revenues of the community.

                      Expenses     Index            Revenues        Cash

1888              31937            112                330621           967

1889              43434            152                48321           4887

1890              37423            131                414392        (8000)

1891              34739            122                37097          11260

1892              38729            135                288183         1350

1893              17731              62                173484           967

1894              21552              75                21775           1108

1895              23455              82                234555           192

1896              14618              51                207726           723

1897              22249              78                216367           110,5

average        28586             100


1. Excluding the revenue from a capital of 30,000 francs – a donation of 10,000 F and a 20,000 F dowry – invested in stocks, which represents 1200 to1300 of income per year.

2. In notes, "In the year 1890 my Sister Emmanuel received 7599.85 from the estate of her aunt Mademoiselle Adèle Louinau. This amount was invested during the same year by Mr. Loiselle. »

3. Exercise in serious deficit (10,000 f) but has tapped into the cash that serves as a reserve to pay off expenses.

4. Cash remaining late 1893, 96,714. The difference between income and expenditure is lower, 384 f.

5. In notes "Regarding the 2000 f. of Madame Boucher that year, 1895, we owe 400 Masses after her death – About the 1,000 f. received in 1893, they owe 150 Masses (50 having been said during her lifetime).” This is a donation with Mass intentions at the expense of the community.

6. 6500 francs are from the Martin income, representing the interest from the investment on the part of Mr. Martin's legacy returning to the Carmelites.

7. 6500 francs revenue of the Martin legacy is incorporated into the accounts.

First observation: Thérèse’s years are contrasting years. If we average expenditure - it would be the same globally for revenues that by necessity will usually match somehow - we find that the average budget - more than 28000 F - is actually pure fiction. During the first five years, it is between 32000 and 43000 F; for the last five between 15000 and 22000 F. Did the nuns have to get by in later years with lower costs? It is probable. Have they changed their accounting calculation? It is also probable. The first explanation that comes to mind to explain this great change in spending is the existence of costly work, situated at the beginning of the period. Hence the need to look at the place of construction costs in the annual spending of Carmel.

Table n°2 : Construction costs in the annual spending of Carmel  

           Construction  total expenses          %

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 recorded expenses of the following trades: contractor, architect, mason, upholsterer, painter, roofer, carpenter, knowing that some work sometimes falls under maintenance.

Indeed these expenses involving contractors or even an architect and various building trades, are at a high level in 1888 (25%) and even more in 1889 (45%) when all these expenses are highest. Subsequently, other than one year, these expenses for maintenance or minor construction stabilized around 10%. To understand these expenses, sizable at the beginning of the period, it must be remembered that the monastic life implies that religious as well as their chaplain and the converse sisters have a suitable living environment. The Carmel of Lisieux was founded in 1838 and it is only gradually that the sisters have such premises at their disposal, including a chapel open to the public. Half a century after its founding, the sisters still have to consider a costly campaign for building work. In 1900, they finally have adequate premises but because of the big tax investigation into the property of congregations - the famous billion! – the real estate capital of the Carmel of Lisieux is modest compared with other women's communities of the diocese and one of the oldest Carmels, located in major cities.

However, these enormous expenses alone do not explain the sudden change of the size of budgets. This took place between 1892, when construction costs are almost zero, but overall expenses are still high (38,700 F) and 1893, when they fell by more than half (17,700 F) even though the Carmel has continued to do some work at a reduced amount, less than 10% of a smaller budget. The main reason for the deflation of 1893 expenditures came from a pure accounting operation. In 1892, 18,000 francs are removed from the cash account of Carmel, which corresponds to an unspent sum, so it was necessary to know the origin. It is entrusted to the manager of the Carmelites’ fortune, Monsieur Loiselle, who receives an annual compensation in the form of tips (300 to 100 francs per year) so that he might invest the capital in annual revenues, immediately reinstated in revenue in the form of interest from financial products.

Ordinary expenses, exceptional expenses    

As we see, this rich documentation should be used, but carefully. Start with the most easily identifiable expenses and more precisely, the everyday expenses. To know what makes up the daily life of Carmel, it’s good to examine expense of items in normal years. We chose those of 1893, the first year of clearer management and 1897, when they had to face some additional costs for the cemetery wall and the housing of the chaplain. What emerges is a hierarchy that can be found from one year to the next and reflects the costs of everyday life of the Carmelites.

Table n° 3 Main items of expenditure                       

                                                               1893                         1897

Food                                                   6367   36%               5651   25%   

Debits and gifts                                        3743   21%               4501   20%

Independent contractors                      2014   11%               4173   19%

Worship costs                                     1961   11%               3209   14%

Operating costs                                   2077   12%               2247   10%

Funding for the sisters' work              1244     7%               1707    8%

Clothing                                                195     1%                 366     2%                

Total expenses                                   17731                       22249


An initial note: If the annual budgets show the stability of key positions, they also recorded expenses that are not visible in these larger estimates, such as those for updating the lighting through the progressive introduction of gas for community rooms and for the production of hosts. But not for the individual cells as shown in Thérèse’s comment on small lamps (oil) the sisters carry to return to their room and light them (Ms. C). Expenses were grouped under seven headings, some are obvious but others deserve explanation. The one called debits and gifts includes, in addition to two important items (taxes and payment of pensions), alms, tips to benefactors, payment of the sacristan’s rent and ad hoc support such as for the major seminary in 1897. A more classic list of operations, all that relates to the everyday life of the community: lighting, heating, laundry, hardware, postage, bookstore, but also the infirmary (pharmacy mainly, high expenditure in 1897, year of the death of Thérèse and the chaplain). Independent contractors are for the tradesmen who are called to work in Carmel, but also - we can argue this point - financing extern sisters whose expenses are clearly distinguished from those of the sisters. The main expenses of worship costs consist of the sacristan’s salary (up from 600 to 675 F) and the chaplain’s stipend (800F in 1896 F but 1400F in 1897, the year of his death). But do not forget the Mass stipends for deceased Carmelite sisters, including those of the community. Thus in 1897, for Sr. Thérèse and Fr. Youf, the chaplain of the Carmel, who dies at the same time as the young Carmelite. Funding for the work of the sisters includes all purchases of raw materials, including fabrics, flour or material, useful to the community to make products sold outside.

From one year to the next, the hierarchy of major items remained stable. In the lead, not surprising, food for more than a third (36%) when the Carmel has no expense for its buildings, a quarter in the opposite case. The second item of expenditure (around 20%) is in debits and gifts. It should be emphasized the burden of the specific tax on congregations, weighed down by the end of the nineteenth century (9% in 1893) but also the obligation to pay pensions, expensive counterpart of previous donations where expenses were part of various inheritances (7% in 1893). In third place three items each representing at least 10% of expenditure: maintenance by craftsmen in Carmel, stabilized at this level in 1891; expenses of worship; current operating costs. In fourth place, the cost of financing the work of the sisters; these, we will see later on under revenue, generate income from their work, but this work involve outlays recorded here. And finally, at a ridiculously low level we find clothing expenses. In fact, purchasing is done as needed, so some years, this position is more sizable, but it is still very small; the clothes are actually made on the spot with the purchased fabric. It is also true that the sisters arrive with a trousseau. The poverty of Carmel is apparent there primarily in a kind of far greater expense in middle-class families.

What are the Carmelites are eating? 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 possible changes.

Table n° 4  Annual food expenditures (in francs)

                                          1888              1893              1897

Bread                                2113              1544              1521

Milk                                    594                682               706

Fish                                     167                698               168    

Meat                                   651                484                546

Butter, cream                     430                 513                562

Vegetables                          353                499                 616

Eggs                                   551                413                 441

Wine, cider, beer                334                554                 126

Oil and seasonings             181                232                   22

Cheese                                226                152                200

Soupe                                  204                116                174

Stewed fruit                          26                 118                 54

Sugar, brown sugar, honey   45                 115                150

It’s necessary to be able to take into account their own resources (breeding hens, eggs) and probably food donations. We know those of Messrs. Martin & Guerin through correspondence published about Thérèse. There may be others. Nevertheless, the expenses show some stability with staples; in ten years the community does not appear to have significantly changed their eating habits at a time when France knows no big price fluctuations on essentials. However, some variations can be surprising. Thus the cost of fish, essential product to a community subject to perpetual fasting from meat. It is low in 1888; from 1889 to 1893, it remains high (over 600 F) then decreases gradually from 1894 to 1897. Should we attribute this drop to a sudden collapse of rates? Similarly the budget beverage (cider, beer, wine) varies a lot, which for wine may be related to storage from one year to another, as also for the oil.

Apart from these remarks, few surprises. Bread, as for the average French, is the first food item. Decreasing, however until 1892, when spending with the baker exceeded 1800 F. From 1893, it is between 1550 and 1400 F. The price of bread has stabilized in France; consumption is probably down in Carmel. Staple foods are milk, fish, butter, eggs, dried vegetables. But also meat for younger people who do not fast or for ill or temporarily weakened sisters. Cheaper items or lower consumption: cheeses, soups, fruits and compotes. Sugar would instead be rising but we do not yet see coffee for the chaplain appear, like chocolate. Decent food, food budget should be compared to those of various social classes while taking into account the number of mouths to feed.


What does the Carmel of Lisieux live on?

Where do the Carmelites get their funds? The "revenue" section of the annual budgets should help us to better understand. But it is much more difficult to make use of. If one immediately identifies items of expenditure, the identification of resources, simple given the same detailed accounting, remains a perilous exercise. Two examples. Among the revenues of 1888, we see 625 F of rent paid by eight people. But in what capacity did the Carmel collect these rents? Properties owned by sisters? Or diverted forms of pension related to dowries? In revenues of 1890, as understanding under the headings taken from the Bank of France (4000 F) and Chez Monsieur Loiselle (2700 F)? No doubt the withdrawal, for the use of the community, or simply invested or deposited funds. But what was the significance of these reserves and where do they come from? It is therefore impossible to accept, like the expenses of reconstructing the categories of revenue. It is suitable to proceed by reasoning from evidence provided by these annual accounts.

Ideally, the contemplative were annuitants; like married women of the nobility or the bourgeoisie, their families had to bring a dowry paid to Carmel at the profession as well as a board during the novitiate and a substantial sum for clothing costs and profession. An example borrowed from 1890. Uncle Guerin, as guardian of the girls Martin, paid a 500 franc pension that year that was commensurate with Thérèse’s upkeep while she was a novice, expenses for profession amounting to 400 F and finally a dowry of 10,000 F. Dowries, for the eldest, were paid in the form of annuity that we still see in 1888 for six Carmelite nuns who professed between 1873 and 1882 (Sisters Saint John the Baptist, Aimée of Jesus, Anne of the Sacred Heart - Saigon - St. John of the Cross, Marie of St. Joseph) and provide annual pensions of 300 to 500 F. This practice seems to be progressively phased out in favor of the payment of capital that will be invested. The dowries, which we find traces of in these budgets fluctuate between 8000 F and 20,000 F. To become choir sisters, they must belong to wealthy families. Poorer ones bring their workforce as converses. In principle, the dowry produces an annual income should live sister: specifically, for a capital of 10 000 F. annual income of 300 to 400 F. For twenty choir sisters (maximum), these resources represent around 7000 F. But in the ten Thérèse years, the annual budget of Carmel is around 29,009 F for actual expenditures estimated at 25,000 F. The capital of dowries generates revenue equivalent to one quarter of the annual resources. Nevertheless the inheritances must be added to the dowries. So in the 1890 budget, we read: "My Sister Emmanuelle has received 7599.85 F from the estate of her aunt, Miss Adèle Louineau", a legacy that almost amounts to the dowry of a professed.

Here we must say a word about investments from the money available, unused gifts, dowries and inheritances. There are fewer and fewer annuities on individuals, but rather on local communities as the city of Trouville or Lisieux, government bonds, and also foreign states, such as the famous Russian loans. And investments in stocks and bonds of various companies. The Carmel receives for example in 1888, 470 F in interest from two banks, the Crédit foncier and Société générale, and 440 F in different railway companies, foremost, chemins de fer du Nord.. The same year, the main financial source - 1557 f - came from Russian loans and Panama Canal shares. The following year, it is no longer a question of Panama, the crash of the famous Compagnie de Lesseps (1889) affected 85,000 investors including the Lisieux Carmel that lost 500 F income. Regarding the Russian bonds, they hold them ... until the Revolution of 1917. The Carmel entered the annuitant capitalism era. With so-called good family man investments. Sometimes hazardous, often profitable.

But, one might say, the Carmelites work to live. The fruits of their labor represents between 15 and 20% of revenues in normal years. This is not negligible, but it is less than the income from annuities (dowry and inheritance) and it is insufficient to meet expenses. The following table shows the total amount of resources that the Carmel makes from the activity of the sisters and the part played by the most important, manufacturing the altar bread.

Table n°5  Revenues from Carmel and manufacture of the altar bread

Revenues total                     AB   AB/TR            MC                Net

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 items, flour and gas. - 2 Purchase of a machine for cutting bread (270 F).

AB altar bread; TR: total of all resources; MC manufacturing cost; Net income

The 1888-1897 period shows a modest increase in personal resources (maximum in 1893-1894), but it is not maintained. Resources come in 1888 in good part from needlework, altar linens or chasubles (1351 F). But the latter, over the years, become less significant. Selling incense or instruments of penance remain but are still limited or anecdotal. "Products" such as painting new religious pictures or sale of farmyard animals, have little financial impact. The bulk of revenues (two thirds from 1893) comes from the manufacture of wafers, called in the budget "altar bread." It is not for nothing that Céline photographed religious engaging in this lucrative business.

The detailed accounting shows buyers, religious communities that provide either directly or through benefactors, or by direct purchase from extern sisters. But this production generates fixed costs, the raw material (flour) and energy (gas for cooking); it requires investments such as the acquisition in 1896 of a machine to cut the bread. In total when the Carmel sells 100 F of hosts, it receive a net profit of 72 F. Such a return is possible because the sisters work for free! That is why convents must choose marginal sectors where the sisters do not compete with commercial enterprises or only working at home, when they engage in sewing. They are required to select specific areas, such as the manufacture of hosts, and to reach captive audiences, as benefactors and religious communities, not to cause malicious accusations of unfair competition which would turn against them.

The Carmel must therefore find at least half of its revenues elsewhere. It is structurally in deficit as are large cultural enterprises today. Lisieux was not an exception; it is the same for all Carmels of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Carmelites have to rely on outside donations. But how? Very little from the small change of collections or novenas which represent between 2 and 4% of resources. Essentially, they live donations from benefactors of those around them - families and relationships - sisters and in the network of relationships that Carmel has made gradually especially in aristocratic circles. There are indeed many marquises and countesses among the benefactors, but none as generous long-term as Marquise de Briges who for the four years 1888-1891, provides alone 56,000 F donations (7,000 F in 1888; 19,000 F in 1889; 10,000 F in 1890; 20,000 F in 1891), 35% of annual revenues. She helped the Carmel from 1861 and did until her death in 1891, increasing from year to year her generosity so that in total "all donations combined from this remarkable benefactress could well be worth a hundred thousand francs!"

The Carmel, rightly, did not intend to link its future to a single magnanimity, even apparently limitless. Obviously, in 1889, to deal with the last installment of work, it intends to solicit from all its connections, lay benefactors but also other Carmels. Successfully? Apparently since the cost of work that year amounts to about 20,000 F and the funds raised amounted to nearly 25,000 F. However, we should consider two factors that relativize this advantageous comparison. Alms for the previous year had already reached almost 9000 F; increased donations of 14,000 F, do not cover the full cost of the work; and also of the additional 14,000 f, 12,000 comes from Marquise de Briges alone.

In fact this call for funds, which offered the Carmel a breath of oxygen, is the perfect opportunity for us to identify the two networks which the Carmel can count on and to appreciate at what level this one time assistance is situated at. The first network is one of the 41 lay benefactors. Female benefactors mostly, they represent more than 80% of identified persons. Among the benefactors we can easily identify families of religious such as Madame de Virville, probably the mother of Marie de Gonzague, or Monsieur Chaumontel, the father of Marie of the Angels, as well as Monsieur Guérin, the Martin Misses [Léonie and Céline] and Misses [Jeanne and Marie] Guérin.

The financial assistance provided by the Carmels is smaller (1352 F) even compared to only lay benefactors (4290 F) without the said Marquise. It is doubly limited. In numbers first of all, the 26 donating Carmels represent 15% of some 130 French Carmels. Then with financing; of all Carmels who give their mite, half expresses its solidarity with a nominal amount (5 to 15 F). Actually four convents alone provide 70% of the contribution of the Carmelite family: three Parisian Carmels, those of the Avenue de Messine (450 F), the Rue d'Enfer (235 F) and Avenue de Saxe (150 F), which is joined by the Carmel of Rouen (100 F). Some of these Carmels are also regular contributors like one, Parisian, Avenue de Messine which brings Lisieux 1250 F of donations between 1888 and 1897.

The Carmel of Lisieux tried to raise funds in 1894, probably in anticipation of new work, with results less than in 1889 because the lay contributors brought in under 2000 F and French Carmels less than 750 F. The geography of Carmelite donors has changed slightly: whereas in 1889 only Lisieux benefited from the help of the only Carmels in northern France and the Atlantic coast, we see in 1894 the appearance of Nîmes, Avignon, Toulon, Agen, for significant donations (20 F), Marseille and Lectoure, for a nominal participation.

Towards the end of the decade the financial situation of the monastery seems to improve. End of big construction expenses; surpluses from the 1889 fund-raising; contribution of dowries from the newly professed. We have seen the Carmel bear the consequences in 1892, when 18,000 surplus francs were converted into regular income. The Carmel in the last years of Thérèse’s life lived more and more fully on its income as the following table shows.

Table n°6 : towards a Carmel of independant means

                    Revenues       yield     Martin revenues   Martin yield        

1888               6832            21%                                            

1893               6067            35%                                  

1894               5885            27%                                  

1895              11885           51%               6500               28%             

1896              12332           59%                                      31%

1897              14237           65%               8723               39%

Let us recall that the annual financial income from various sources comes from unspent annual gifts, dowries and inheritances. If we look at the past five years, 1893-1897, for which the Carmel returns to a more understandable level of spending, the size of financial resources goes from 30% in 1893-1894 to 50% in 1895, 59% in 1896, 65 % - nearly two-thirds of revenues - in 1897. A reason 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. But for the most part, this change comes from the dowries of the Martin girls (Marie, Thérèse and Céline) and even more from the Martin legacy (1894) whose income is taken into account from 1895. 6500 francs in the budgets of 1895 and 1896, which would come from a capital of more than 160,000 francs for an average income of 4%, the equivalent of 16 dowries of 10,000 f. And those revenues coming from the Martins are still rising in 1897; this year with over 8700 francs financial income, the Carmel then draws nearly 40% of its resources from the fortune of the Martin family. And precisely the year when Therese dies.

During the first four Thérèse years, the Carmel lived on regular donations from the Marquise de Briges and for the last three, the Martin inheritance. Legitimate comparison, but different situation. A noble benefactor is replaced by a bourgeois inheritance. One time donations to balance budgets give way to an annuity guaranteed for years to come. So advantages. It can also have drawbacks. The generosity of a single benefactor did not weigh directly on the life of Carmel; the large Martin legacy is a consequence of the presence of four sisters from the same family whose parents had made a fortune in lace and watches, and had already transformed their profits into profitable financial investments. And the management of wealth by uncle Guerin, since 1889 when Mr. Martin was put in trusteeship for health reasons, helped to maintain if not increase the wealth gained by the fruits of the parents’ labor.

The historian, after trying to understand what is meant by this accounting, has questions, unresolved and perhaps impertinent. Did the financial context of the Carmel remain a secret known only to the Prioress and council or did the sisters know, especially Thérèse? How could the sisters live the ideal of poverty and at the same time participate more and more in the benefits of financial capitalism? Would the rapid publication of Story of a Soul have happened as easily in financial conditions less dependent on the Martin family?

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