A simple portable small escritoire, a writing desk on which she wrote Story of a Soul as well as letters and any work given to her under obedience. Everything she wrote was under obedience.
Hard to explain why this moves me so. A life so outwardly constrained and so immensely free.
Therese was responsible for preparing the cell two doors down from her, next to the community’s library, for her sister Celine. We have no photograph of Celine’s cell. She decided to give Celine her own ecritoire (“ecritoire no. 1), which was light to carry and still in good condition. To replace it, she mounted to the attic, where the nuns placed old, worn-out objects designated “out of use,” which no one dared to throw away. There she found an old ecritoire, much heavier and rather battered. The writing surface had already split on both sides. On the Web site of the archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, you can see a photo of the first ecritoire and several photos that show the poor condition of the second ecritoire, with a short story about the two.
Since this second ecritoire was “out of use” in 1894, it was very old, probably dating as far back as the foundation of the Lisieux Carmel in 1838. Incredibly, Therese used this battered desk to produce all the major texts she wrote between September 14, 1894 and September 8, 1897, when she laid down her pen. This is the writing-case that is touring the United States in the autumn of 2013.
Testifying to Therese’s generosity and to her love of poverty, Celine recounts:
Because of her ardent love for God, Therese chose only the ugliest and most worn out articles for her personal use. I repeat that this stemmed from her love for God because by nature she was artistic and preferred objects that were attractive and in good taste . . . .
A novice had rubbed linseed oil over the cheap finish of her cell ecritoire, but immediately Saint Therese had her scrub it with a brush until every trace of the oil had disappeared. The furniture of the cell assigned to Therese had already been polished in this way by a former occupant; had it been up to her, she would have restored the original finish without more ado.
On my entrance into Carmel she passed on to me her own serviceable writing-desk and holy water font and replaced them by others no longer fit for use which she had found in the garret.
The last time Therese used the ecritoire, September 8, 1890, on the seventh anniversary of her Profession,was to write her last prayer. She wrote this prayer on the reverse of the little holy card with an image of Our Lady of Victories (a devotion dear to the Martin and Guerin families, who loved her sanctuary in Paris) to which she had attached the little white flower her father had given her on Pentecost Sunday 1887, in the garden at Les Buissonnets, when he gave her his permission to enter Carmel. Therese had kept this holy card in her treasured copy of the Imitation of Christ, inserting it at the chapter “That Jesus Christ must be loved above all things.”
In her bed in the infirmary, leaning against the writing-case, with a trembling hand she wrote:
“O Mary, if I were the Queen of Heaven and you were Therese, I should wish to be Therese in order to see you as Queen of Heaven.”
These were the last words Therese wrote on earth.