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Madame Acarie and her neighbours in difficulty

Faced with the many demands on her charity and having given time to God and her family, Madame Acarie was still able to
• nurse the wounded and the sick poor in hospital
• help the dying
• help many women in difficulty, especially prostitutes
• provide work for the unemployed in time of famine
• show great concern for her servants
• give material help to the clergy and poor parishes, etc,
thus demonstrating a rare gift for efficient organisation !

Madame Acarie and her neighbours in difficulty

Lecture by Michel PICARD, président

Marguerite de Gondi, the Marquise de Maignelay, was in close contact with Barbe Acarie for eighteen years while she was in the world.

She gives the following testimonyRITI 2236-403v, c’est-à-dire Archives secrètes vaticanes, Congrégation des Rites, volume 2236, feuillet 403, verso. :

“I noticed that Blessed Mary’s mind was so utterly fixed on God and it was so easy for her to turn from action to mental prayer that it seemed that her life was nothing but continual prayer, but at the same time it was active and busy”.

Frère Ephrem spoke to us with fervour about Barbe Acarie the mystic; now let us look at the actions of Barbe Acarie. The woman of great charity.
Just a word about her charity after her entry into religious life. She had requested that she should be sent to a Carmel that was suffering great deprivation, in order to live a life of the greatest possible poverty, and also a Carmel some distance from Paris, so that she would avoid contact with high society. She arrived in Amièns in February 1615, wrote André DuvalAndré Duval, La Vie admirable de la bienheureuse sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, appelée dans le monde Mademoiselle Acarie, religieuse converse de l’ordre du Mont-Carmel et fondatrice de cet ordre en France, Paris, Librairie Victor Lecoffre, 1893 p. 254., with the idea of “stripping herself of all created things and clothing herself in God alone”. So she was filled with joy and gratitude at being able to profit from the silence and enclosure of the monastery. In reality, the Prioress, realising all the good which she could procure for the Sisters, the novices in particular, asked her to talk to them, to give them guidance and to answer their questions. So, forgetful of her own aspirations, she would practise charity in this way during the remaining years of her life.

But it is her charity in the world, which is the subject of the present paper. It was characterised by its continuity, its realism, its intensity and its lack of discrimination with regard to the people who were helped.
To put everything into context, here are a few key points :

  • She was born in 1566 and married in 1582 at the age of sixteen and a half.
  • She gave birth to six children between 1584 and 1592.
  • In 1587 she read the sentence “Trop est avare à qui Dieu ne suffit” and experienced a radical conversion.
  • She experienced her first ecstasies in 1590 and received the stigmata in 1593.
  • At about the same time, her husband was exiled, her family was ruined, she suffered a fall from her horse and broke her thigh-bone on three occasions.
  • In 1601 and 1602 she received a request and then a command from God to introduce the reformed Carmelite Order into France.
  • Pierre Acarie died in 1613, and Barbe entered Carmel three months later.
  • Sister Mary of the Incarnation died on April 18, 1618.

For convenience, I shall divide my paper into five sections :

1. Her care for the wounded and the sick poor.
2. Her concern for persons in religion.
3. Her concern for her servants and her dealings with labourers and craftsmen.
4. Her assistance to women.
5. Her charity towards her husband.

But this distinction is misleading, because Barbe Acarie worked on behalf of these five groups of people simultaneously and without a break. Mother Marie of St. Joseph Fournier, who knew her for a few months when she was in the world and was ultimately her Prioress here in Pontoise, goes so far as to say2233-53r. :

“The above-mentioned Sister Mary of the Incarnation replied that she had as many as twenty-five projects ongoing at the same time”.

By “project” must be understood Barbe’s taking over responsibility for someone’s distress, anxiety, sickness, disability, material need, etc. because she was concerned about all these aspects of other people’s lives.
Père Coton, the former Superior of the Jesuits in France, defines the spiritual framework of all this spiritual activity2233-62r.. His testimony echoes that of Marguerite de Gondy, quoted earlier :

“Even when she was in the world, [the soul] of Madame Acarie was occupied with caring for her home, the service of the poor and the salvation of those who came to see her, without cutting herself off from God and losing sight of them”.

1. Her care of the wounded and the sick poor

Madame Acarie’s original religious vocation was to care for the wounded and the sick poor. She felt a call to this work at the age of fourteen or fifteen when the Wars of Religion resulted in great numbers of casualties and the plague was raging in France.

Her parents’ wish that Barbe should marry thwarted her entry into religious life, but her ardent desire to serve the poor and the sick remained undiminished.

Here are some details of the living conditions and medical care at the time.
1) Georges Bordonove writes :Histoire secrète de Paris, tome 2, p. 94.

Paris was submerged in a nauseous atmosphere… In the streets the dust adhered to dung, to dirty rubbish and to all sorts of waste matter. This was… a factor in the spread of TB, chronic anaemia and epidemics of every kind. There was in addition, a total lack of hygiene.
Parisians… had the River Seine – which was polluted -, wells into which leaked the slurry from the stables, and twenty-nine fountains… for 300,000 inhabitants

Madame Acarie’s love of cleanliness, mentioned by Bernard YON in 1999, perhaps takes its origin from the generally filthy state of the capital. But the atmosphere in the hospitals was much worse. André Duval explainsOp. cit., p. 69. the repugnance Barbe Acarie felt when she went inside them :

“When she began to devote herself to works of piety, she had some natural fear, both of the infection in the place and of the horrific wounds which had to be dressed; nevertheless, she forced herself to overcome the feelings of apprehension that arose within her”.

2) A hospital was a place of extreme suffering. Ambrose Paré had just invented the ligature of arteries to replace the cauterisation of amputees. The relief of suffering was by no means a current practice; in spite of being a vicomtesse, Barbe did not receive any when the specialist tried to set her thigh-bone which was broken in three places; it was even less of a possibility in the hospitals where the poor were treated.
Hospitals were, on the contrary, thought of as places of repression; the beggars who were admitted often had to carry out heavy work.
It was into this milieu that Madame Acarie went heart and soul, as each of the following writers explains in his or her own way ; {tooltipAndré Duval}{end-text} Op. cit., p. 69.{end-tooltip}, the Marquise de Maignelay2236-396v. and Michel de Marillac2236-781r. :

“She could be seen going of her own accord into hospitals to dress wounds which would turn the stomachs of the most resolute”.
“I think she was the first woman of gentle birth to go into these wretched places”.
“I saw her in 1589 at the hospital for the wounded near St. Gervais, having the wounds of the sick poor dressed in her presence, having clean linen, ointment and food brought to them, consoling and strengthening them with a constancy, a graciousness and an effectiveness that were to be admired. She was all the more encouraged in this when she saw these poor invalids in such a filthy state and lying together in the same bed; [this] was very repugnant to her because of her inclination to cleanliness – [She] opposed her natural feelings to such an extent that she came to desire that same condition herself. I saw [her] very often because the hospital was near our parish and [we] used to go there from time to time”

Marie, the eldest of Madame Acarie’s daughters, likewise stated2236-516r. that in 1589:
“She went with her mother-in-law every day to change their dressings”.

And Mother Jeanne of Jesus, the sister of Chancellor Séguier, relates what her mother had told her2235-835r. :

“She spent whole days at the Hôtel-Dieu [especially during the Siege of Paris, May – August 1590] with such consolation that she was unable to leave”.

* *

One must not imagine that once the Wars of Religion and the horrible wounds that resulted from it were past, that Madame Acarie lost interest in invalids and the wounded. In reality, wrote André DuvalOp. cit., p. 72. :

“When she was in the country [that is, in a house near Troyes] her occupation was to visit the sick poor, to prepare remedies for them herself, to clean their wounds, however revolting and to help and console them in every way that she could”.

Michel de Marillac confirms these details2236-779r. :

“When she was in the country her occupation was to prepare ointments and medicines for the poor”.

But it was of course in her house in the Rue des Juifs, or in the vicinity that her most frequent practice of charity took place.
Michel de Marillac relates that2236-780v. :

“Once when she was dining with guests in her house, she heard one of the manservants call out that he had been injured. She got up straight away and went to see what was the matter, bandaged him up and came back to the social gathering”.

André Duval sums it up2236-334r. :

She used what she owned to bring relief to the human body and all its infirmities, to the extent that, when the plague was raging in Paris, she was not afraid to welcome strangers into a house that belonged to her.

2. Her concern for persons in religion

“It seems to be necessary for people of good will to remain in the world to act as a support for religious and to help them in their necessities”, wrote André DuvalOp. cit., p. 10..

This was a very restricted view of the role of the laity in the Church, but it was the one current at the time; it helps us to have a greater appreciation of the importance of the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council. “Gaudium et spes” and beyond that of the whole social teaching of the Church.
It was quite natural for Barbe Acarie to come to the assistance of priests.
Let us quote André Duval once againOp. cit., p. 73 et 74. :

  • There was a doctor called Monsieur de la Rue… She prepared with her own hands the things he needed, whether it was food or the medicines he used to take.
  • When any of them were sick, if they did not live in Paris, she gave them the use of her house and everything else that they needed.
  • When some of them went to preach in the countryside, if she had acquaintances in the area, she wrote asking them to be sure to help them…
    I must make a note here, André Duval wrote, of my obligation to her, because when I was struck down with a quartan fever (a kind of malaria) she had me brought to her house, where I stayed for almost two months…
  • In the severe winter of 1608, fearing that the religious would die of the cold, she sent a large quantity of wood and piles of blankets to numerous religious houses. It shames us women, she used to say, to let them suffer so much.
  • If some impecunious priest had need of furnishings for his church, she gave him some, so that he would on no account miss celebrating his daily Mass.

These are five examples of her care for priests quoted by André Duval, but he realises that his information is not completeOp. cit., p. 71. :

“God alone knows the number of charitable works which she carried out; it is impossible to list them, because there were several which she kept a closely guarded secret, but there were also many others which it was impossible for her to hide”.

Above all, her own servants were the recipients of her charity.

3. Her concern for her servants and her dealings with labourers and craftsmen.

In the beginning, Pierre and Barbe Acarie were wealthy. They spent most of their time in their mansion in the Rue des Juifs. Their estates were situated for the most part, to the south, east and west of Troyes. They also had a country house in Ivry-sur-Seine. They had numerous servants.
Although Pierre Acarie was a Councillor in the Chambre des Comptes, he had no inclination to manage his own business affairs; oddly enough, according to Michel de Marillac2236-780v. to the extent of being completely useless in that regard.
So it was Barbe Acarie the mystic who ran everything, becoming the head of a small business with premises in three locations and a considerable workforce. It is to her role as employer that we must now turn our attention.
To remain true to the theme of this paper, I shall first of all describe Barbe’s conduct with respect to the manifest problems of her domestic servants. I shall then go on to describe the lesser needs of the servants which Barbe guessed or predicted.

“If some of her servants chanced to fall ill”, wrote André DuvalOp. cit., p. 54 she took good care that they wanted for nothing and that everything about them was kept clean and tidy. She gave the responsibility of looking after them to the members of her household whom she knew to be most inclined to works of charity. She used to visit them often and would sometimes bring them something to eat herself, always saying a few words about Almighty God to them, so as to encourage them to endure their sickness with patience; in addition, she would exhort them to take everything which the doctor prescribed”.

And Madame Acarie’s biographer continues, writing about lengthy periods of illnessOp. cit., p. 54. :

“If it happened that their illness lasted a long time, she was most insistent that it must never be obvious that it was wearisome to care for them”.

He also relates how Barbe Acarie behaved in a dramatic situationOp. cit., p. 54. :

“It happened one day that a young lackey of hers was in her house and suffering from the plague. As soon as she discovered this, she was unwilling to say anything to the other servants lest she should frighten them, but she helped him herself and did everything in such an orderly way, and with such skill that no-one apart from herself went near him and yet at the same time, no-one suspected why she wanted to look after him herself”.

Michel de Marillac adds the detail2236-781v.

that “she sent him to the country for a change of air”.

The above relates to Barbe’s attitude in individual circumstances but she insisted that her children should show respect to the servants; she took an interest in her servants’ education and even their careers (as we would say nowadays) and she saw to it that their wages were paid.
André Duval reveals thatOp. cit., p. 49. :

“She wished her daughters to speak very gently and humbly to the male and female domestic servants; as a consequence, they would never have dared to say ’Do this or do that’; but rather ’I beg you’ or ’If you please’; otherwise, they were corrected, and the lackey was ordered not to obey them without these [polite expressions]. She did not want anyone in the house to call them by anything other than their Baptismal name, without the addition of ’Mademoiselle’.

In addition, wrote André Duval,
“Blessed Mary was tireless in taking the utmost care of them. She could not bear to hear them using swear-words or to know that they did so in her absence; she could not abide them playing cards or other games of chance, or disagreeing amongst themselves… She wished them to speak gently to one another and to live together charitably as brothers and sisters”Op. cit., p. 52

“She also took great care that all her servants obeyed the laws of God and of the Church”.
“She gave them good books on the above, ordering them to read them attentively, and never to be idle”Op. cit., p. 53.

Sister Marie of Jesus Breauté confirms that

“She took care that they were very composed in their outward appearance, not only in the modesty of their actions, their words and their dress, but also in their charity and gentleness and mutual respect”2235-606v..

The same witness demonstrates, like André Duval, that in that age of Calvinist heresy, Barbe Acarie was concerned about the salvation of the souls of her servants :

“She had a very particular concern… for the salvation of her domestic servants” 2235-606v.
“Amidst her pressing occupations she found time to talk to them about the things of God and to instruct [them] in the practise of the virtues”2235-607r..

It is true that all her servants took part, in their own way, in the charitable work of their mistress.
Once again, it is Sister Marie of Jesus de Breauté who states2235-607r. :

“The continual arrival of all kinds of people who had recourse to the Servant of God kept her servants always on the go and habitually prevented from doing their normal work”.

André Duval tells us something elseOp. cit., p. 55 about her young lackey Etienne :

“His good mistress sent him to work at a tapestry-maker’s. Having completed his apprenticeship, he came back to see her, saying that he was disenchanted with the world and that he had made a vow of celibacy and consecrated himself to the service of God. This is why, on the advice of his mistress, he decided to act as sacristan to the confessors and preachers at the Monastery of the Incarnation”.

We have to admire in passing the disinterested gesture of Madame Acarie in giving up the young lackey whom she esteemed so highly, the successful employment of the latter, because he finally qualified as a tapestry-maker, the confidence and openness of the servant Etienne when he came to see his mistress and tell her of his dissatisfaction, Madame Acarie’s attentive ear, her good advice and her respect for Etienne, who made the final decision of his own accord.
Michel de Marillac, who was very familiar with contemporary society, denounced the dishonest practices of the social class to which Madame Acarie belonged, before describing how she herself behaved2236-810r. :

“Acting with justice… it is hard to find examples of this because they are seldom encountered”.

In other words, amidst the general dishonesty, conduct such as Madame Acarie’s was very unusual. In her case, it was the reverse :

“She took such great care to pay her servants, and none of them ever had any cause for complaint”.

She was, moreover, careful to remain impartial. André Duval relates in connection with thisOp. cit., p. 59 et 60. :

“It happened that a workman who was usually employed in her house fell ill and asked her to give him alms, which she did; as she did so it came into her mind that this man was needed in her house. She immediately felt herself being admonished interiorly for having entertained the idea of the service she could gain by making this charitable gift to a neighbour”.

Her attentiveness, her sense of justice and her charity were not confined to her own servants, however, but extended to the labourers, craftsmen and farmers who came her way. Michel de Marillac tells us2236-810v. :

“We have already taken into account a great many workmen, masons, carpenters, roofers, stone-cutters, jointers, glaziers, plumbers, tilers and others; she clearly treated them all fairly, all the more so because she had an altogether special awareness of the value of everything; she used to say that one should give God His due as well as the workmen”.

André Duval addsOp. cit., p. 134. :

“When she saw that everything was satisfactory and that the workmen had made good use of their time, she gave them something in addition to their daily wages”.

And when dealing with tradesmen, according to Michel de Marillac2236-811r. :

“She was also perfectly knowledgeable about fabrics, to the extent that she never, or hardly ever, drove a bargain; she understood their calculations, saw what was written down and said openly, “That cost you such and such, you should make such and such a profit; this is the price which you ought to charge”.

And people have to have jobs. Madame Acarie was well aware of this. Her daughter Marie declared2236-518v. :

“A poor embroiderer… who was in need and had no work, elicited her compassion, and she had him execute various pieces of work although she had no need of them, saying that she would be pleased to give [them] away, [and] that the embroiderer, who was an upright man, could find no work at the time to support his little family”.

Her goodness was sometimes repaid by rank ingratitude, as Jeanne l’Epervier relates2235-580r. :

“She found some jobs for a poor woman to do so that she had the means to make a living. Instead of being grateful, the woman said that the aforesaid Madame Acarie had withheld part of her wages and had not paid her enough”.

André Duval is precise in his description of the consequences of the famine in the Troyes region, and Blessed Mary’s efforts on behalf of the starving peasantryOp. cit., p. 72.. I must remind you first of all that Parmentier did not popularise the cultivation of potatoes in France until about 1775, that is, about two hundred years after the famine in question.

“After the troubles, it happened that the famine in Champagne, where Monsieur Acarie had some fine property, became very widespread. Blessed Mary saw the people wandering through the fields searching for roots which they mixed with crushed nuts or husks to make bread, having no means to buy wheat. She was moved with such great compassion that she tried to find all the means possible to come to the aid of these poor people who were in such dire need. In spite of the important business which she was undertaking at home, she decided to set them to do pieces of work (of which she had absolutely no need) so that they would be enabled not only to earn enough to provide themselves with bread but also to avoid idleness, the mother of all the vices”.

Several years after André Duval’s book was published, Marie, the eldest of the Acarie daughters, who had probably read it, and was a witness at the beatification process, would confirm the above account almost word for word, except for a detail which makes one shudder; according to her, the peasants were reduced to adding “powdered slate”2236-518r. to their bread.
These two depositions are of particular interest because they enable us to date the events :

  • They took place after Pierre’s exile and the seizure of the mansion in the Rue des Juifs, but before Barbe’s fall from horseback.
  • She was twenty-eight years old, had six children, and her husband was no longer there. Her daughter Marie, the witness, was born in July 1585 and was nine or ten years old at the time. The Acaries’ income had probably been reduced through the confiscation of their property and the bad harvest which resulted in the famine; some light is certainly shed on the “important business” at home, but one suspects that her economic situation remained difficult.

These considerations throw into relief the extraordinary depth of Madame Acarie’s charity and the way in which it developed; moved with great compassion, she searched for a solution, found one, and put it into effect at whatever cost. She had two aims in view; to obtain food and to combat idleness, the mother of all the vices.
These are Barbe’s two constant objectives, to save body and soul at one and the same time.

* *

To sum up, one can say that from the time of the encyclical ’Rerum Novarum’ in 1891, the social teaching of the Church has indicated the way in which social relations should progress but that Madame Acarie was already putting this into practice to some extent in the 1600’s.

4. Her concern for women

Men were not excluded from her charitable work. One can quote the following examplesNicolas Pinette de Charnay, 2235-489v. :

  • The man who had an operation for the removal of a stone.
  • The man whom she supplied with soup and other victuals for a period of six months.
  • The vinegar-maker whose head she supported while it was being trephined. She cared for him afterwards.
  • The prisoners she visited. She sent their families a meal several days each month.

But she is best known for her concern for women and, in the first place, her concern for prostitutes. In connection with this, I must point out that the expression “venereal disease” was in current use from the beginning of the sixteenth century, the period which is the subject of our study.


Jeanne l’Epervier quotes one of Blessed Mary’s sayings.2235-580v.

“It would be a great advantage if we could have a house for the shelter of fallen girls and women. Even if this resulted in preventing God from being offended for only one night, it would still be a great advantage”.

In actual fact it was in the Hotel Acarie itself that the prostitutes were accommodated, as the same witness testifies :

“And I saw that there were always many fallen women in her house, who had come in search of her to rescue them from vice”.

André Duval goes furtherOp. cit., p. 464 :

“She often sheltered in her home women who were in danger of losing their virtue and others who had allowed themselves to be drawn into sin; nevertheless, her house was for some a refuge and for others a school of chastity, which swiftly changed them into chaste doves, having a horror of vice and the firm resolve never to fall again into faults of a similar nature”.

Michel de Marillac says in addition2236-780r. :

I can affirm that during all the time that I saw her frequently… I never saw her for a moment without some women of this kind staying with her, and often there were several”.

But this hospitality was not to continue indefinitely, as Michel de Marillac explains2236-778v. :

There were in the vicinity of her home, in the same street or nearby, several households that were small in numbers where she arranged for poor young girls or women to be given shelter. Some were actually fallen women, others were in danger of becoming so. She gave some of them food and others money, to furnish and pay the rent for their rooms”.
“In addition to this, she took care to visit them and sent them out to beg for alms so that she would know how they conducted themselves. She lent them good books to read and provided pieces of work to keep them occupied, sometimes pieces of linen, sometimes wool, sometimes tapestry, so that they were not idle”.
“It turned out that she put some of them into service with upright people, others were married, others continued to earn their living in honest work, others entered religious life according to the openings she found for them, looking after their affairs as if they were her own daughters. All the expenses were met either out of her own pocket or by others through her advice and persuasion”

All this in effect demanded considerable resources. Sister Marie of Jesus de Breauté who knew Barbe Acarie “when she was a young girl”2235-604r, who visited her “two or three times a week”2235-606v. and whose deposition is that of a well-informed lay person (even though she ultimately became a Carmelite) enlightens us about this2235-619r. :

“Her charity was so well known that those who wanted to give large amounts in alms used to send them to her to distribute according to need. And I know in particular that King Henry the Fourth, wishing to give several sums of money to the poor sent word to the Servant of God, asking her to oversee their distribution”.

Sister Marie of the Blessed Sacrament de Saint Leu says in her turn2236-188v. :

“Blessed Mary was not satisfied to used all her worldly goods in the service of God and her neighbour, but she asked for alms from rich and pious people as a contribution to it, and [I] remember that in her house there were some purses and a cupboard where the alms from several noble ladies were kept; Blessed Mary gave these to her eldest daughter to look after and to distribute as need and circumstances demanded.”.

Sister Louise of Jesus Jourdain, the first Carmelite to be professed in Pontoise, testifies in an anecdote that Barbe Acarie kept an account of the use made of the sums of money which had been entrusted to her2236-723r. :

“One day I was checking an account with several other persons, and for a long time we were unable to make it balance. There was an error of a hundred ecus… she took the coins herself and spent a long time counting them…”

To sum up, Madame Acarie as an individual acted just like a modern charitable association, collecting funds and managing them, being a focus of activity, drawing heavily on her own efforts and money, dealing with the root causes of evil and accompanying the women who were affected until they were completely rehabilitated.
She also had a concern for other women.

There follow some facts mentioned by André Duval in his book or by Michel de Marillac in the deposition he wrote for Sister Mary of the Incarnation’s Beatification Process :

“A woman who had been the subject of a serious inquiry had three daughters who were very beautiful, well turned out, healthy and in danger of losing their virtue. Madame Acarie placed them in her house near to where she lived. She took care to keep them employed and to give them an education. The second daughter became a religious at Montivilliers2236-781v.“.

“A poor young woman, who had been seduced by a man of gentle birth and then abandoned, was close to despair; she wanted to kill herself and her child, and she struck herself violently and repeatedly on the stomach. She was sent to Paris and went to Madame Acarie, who kindly gave her shelter in a nearby house, where she was well-treated and had a successful delivery before going home, having received good advice and being well disposed to fear God”.2236-779v.
“A poor woman, reduced to a state of extreme necessity, came to Paris burdened with six children, in order to be able to feed them. She ended up with Madame Acarie, who took care of her and her children. But after a time the woman went away without saying goodbye, and left all the children on her hands, without anyone knowing where she had gone. Blessed Mary took responsibility for the six children, and took them into her home with as much love and charity as if they had been her own, seeing to it that they learned a trade so that one day they could earn their living”Op. cit., p. 71.

Madame Acarie’s attitude towards children seems very attractive to us, but in the context of the times, it is truly astonishing. This is what Père Dujardin explained to us on March 25, 2000, regarding the infancy of Jesus (the sign of His self-emptying); childhood was considered at that time as a period of “lowliness” and “impoverished humanity”.

“For a long time, Madame Acarie had a girl sleeping with her who needed to be watched continually because of her mental state, in spite of the fact that she was ill and afflicted with diverticulitis, so that she was using a bedpan practically all night long”2236-780v..

“And that went on for several months”.
Clearly, the mental and physical state of this person demanded constant attention and assistance. It was Barbe Acarie herself who took responsibility for this act of service, night after night, for several months.
It is useful to compare Barbe’s outlook in this instance with her attitude towards her lackey Vincent when he was stricken with the plague; in the latter case, because there was danger of death, she took sole responsibility for the care of the invalid; in the former, the person needed constant supervision, so it was she who stayed up with her at night.
So her assistance to women continued as long as was necessary for the persons concerned to be rehabilitated ; her practice of charity was continual, effective and thoroughly realistic.

5. Barbe’s charity towards her husband

The fact that Barbe Acarie’s thoughtfulness for her husband was expressed in a thousand and one ways cannot be overestimated; he was, after all, her husband; Pierre Acarie’s lot was, moreover, a difficult one. Boucher records his own wordsJ.M.A. Boucher Vie de la Bienheureuse Marie de l’Incarnation dite dans le monde Mademoiselle Acarie, Paris, Librairie Régis Ruffet, 1873, p. 91. :

“It is very inconvenient to have a wife who is so virtuous and so wise”.

In addition, she used to have so many visitors in their house in the Rue des Juifs that the poor man no longer felt quite at home there. In connection with this Marguerite Acarie relates that2236-427r. when she was small, she shared her mother’s bedroom for a long time. Barbe herself affirmedMère Marie de Saint-Joseph Fournier, 2236-108r. that on many occasions she gave up her own bed to a passing visitor. Pierre Acarie saw little of his wife; he was in fact demoted to a very lowly position. Although he had every excuse for it, he became very disagreeable and difficult to live with; that is the least one can say.
Barbe, who was hypersensitive to the feelings of others, was evidently perfectly aware of her husband’s uncomfortable situation. It was very probably to remedy this situation as far as possible that she obeyed him in everything… even if she had many other reasons for behaving in this way.
There are abundant testimonies to this obedience and the forms which it took.
Michel de Marillac says2236-753r. :

“She took the greatest care to prevent anything which could cause (her husband) any inconvenience”

Sister Marie of Jesus (de Tudert) says2235-540v. :

There was nothing in the world that could upset her except the thought that her husband would lose his temper”.

Sister Marie of the Blessed Sacrament de Saint Leu says2236-209v. :

“How prudently she adapted herself to her husband’s moods, and how she tried to please him in every way”.

It is a fact that Barbe was greatly helped in this matter by the driving force of her passionate love for her husband; Sister Marie of Jesus de Tudert gives a discreet indication of this2235-560v. :

“I have heard her say that she had little regard for the virtues of a soul whose passions were never aroused”.

And Michel de Marillac, who during the last twelve years of Barbe’s life ’in the world’ never let two days go by without meeting her to help her in her business affairs and projects, testifies that this love never waned, right up to the time of Pierre’s death :

“Nothing could ever cool or diminish the tender love which she bore him; it was the greatest love that I have ever seen anyone express”.

We married Lay people are familiar with those fairly long periods when love is blind, when the least desire of the other person is perceived as a welcome obligation. In the case of the Acaries, it was not a question of such times as these but of life from beginning to end; her former servant Edmond de Messa confirmed that2236-384v. :

“She obeyed him like a child”.

What is the true meaning of such a statement ?

  1. It was customary for women to obey their husbands at that time, so it was logical for Barbe to obey Pierre in some way.
  2. The witnesses, however, were scandalised by Pierre’s authoritarian manner towards his wife: This proves that, even for those times, it was extreme.
  3. But in household affairs, Barbe in fact had an authority that other women did not possess; through Pierre’s lack of interest, and even, according to Michel de Marillac, his curious inability to manage his family’s affairs, it was Barbe who banked their income and paid the family’s expenses. This was certainly a heavy responsibility made difficult because, amongst other things, Pierre used to buy large quantities of very expensive books as presents, without consulting his wife. Nevertheless, her undoubted economic power probably gave Barbe relative autonomy.
  4. Her absolute obedience was all the more meritorious (and bewildering to the average observer).
  5. There are, however, some indicators which allow us to give intellectual assent to such absolute obedience :
  • a) It was not an infantile obedience; for example, when Pierre forbade his wife to spend the hours from dawn to dusk on the building site of the Paris monastery, in 1603 – 1604, she proved to him that her absence was detrimental to the smooth progress of the work; but she ended by commending the matter to God, so that He would lead her husband to change his mind.
  • b) As Père Houdret emphasised in our presence on November 5, 2000, Barbe looked for every opportunity of practising humility. In connection with this, he quotes an extract from the book by André DuvalOp. cit., p. 362.. She said that
  • “Humility was an abyss stretching downwards, because one cannot reach the depths of one’s nothingness, and charity was an abyss stretching upwards, because one cannot reach its summit”.
    In obeying her husband, was not Barbe Acarie trying to go deep into an abyss of humility and to practise charity in an every higher degree? That is what is declared by Sister Marie of Jesus de Breauté2235-628v. :

    “She accepted Monsieur Acarie’s rebukes with the most profound humility”.

  • c) Barbe was obedient not only to her husband but also to
    • – Her confessor and director in the worldAndré Duval, op. cit., p. 60.,
    • – In religious life, her Prioress, whom she called “Jesus Christ on earth”.

This last remark seems to be capable of a theological explanation :
Just as the Son, who is equal to the Father in every way, became obedient to the Father, so Barbe Acarie, Pierre’s equal (and in many respects by far his superior) became obedient to Pierre in humility, charity and love.


Marie Acarie thus summarizes very clearly the charity of her mother :2236-516v.

“[She] was offered to all of a so frank heart and went so prompt to help that everyone came to her with a whole freedom and confidence, at some hour that it was, in the morning, at the evening, during the meal, so that she did not have an hour with herself; everyone was welcome […] She exerted the charity so strongly and assiduously which she gave rest neither to her body nor to her spirit”.

Why so much of opening to the others in the need? Marie Acarie, Andre Duval and Marguerite de Gondy transmit four axes of reflection to us:

“The spirit of God is not idle. The people who want nothing to make are rather carnal but spiritual”.Marie, 2236-519r.

“When one gives his time to God, one finds some for all the remainderMarguerite de Gondy, 2236-403r..
“She learned how not to neglect anything for small which it was, when she saw some advantage for the neighbour”.André Duval, op. cit., p. 62.

“How Much are there the poor in the streets of the world which would praise God otherwise than I do, if they had well-fitting shoes as me ?”

Prayer and charity, charity and prayer, overlapping one in the other, closely associated. It was the restored piety about which spoke Sainte Therese d’Avila when she appeared to Mrs Acarie in 1601:

“Blessed Therese obviously appeared to [Barb] who made prayer and informs her that such was the will of God in these terms: “Just as I enriched Spain of this very famous Order, in the same way YOU WHICH RESTORE PIETY IN FRANCE, task to make profit this country {tooltip}from the same benefit”.{end-text} André Duval, op. cit., p. 330r.

It was the exclusive, general and permanent practice of the prayer and the charity which made Barbe Acarie ready and worthy to introduce the Carmel in France. It is not a human reasoning, it is a divine assertion: “You which restore piety…”introduce the Carmel in France.