Encaustics and Microfilm


On November 23, 1935, Father Chervier accepted a proposal from the Parisian director of the Union des Economats privés, to ensure the manufacture of buckets of wax at Saint-Wandrille.
As early as December 17, 1935, a brand name was created, MELITTA, and on February 19, 1936, encaustic manufacturing began: a single common room was initially used for all operations, including wax melting, bucket weighing, packaging, storage of wax and packaging. A small adjoining shed was used for mixing flammable materials. The tools are very rudimentary: a pot, ladles, a laundry boiler, two stretchers for transporting buckets.
A water bath was soon added, enabling the mixing of around 100 kilos of finished products. The clientele, at that time made up entirely of local authorities, was satisfied with the encaustic prepared by the monks. As orders grew, so did the need to organize packaging and shipping services.

To this end, two rooms on the second floor were annexed. In September 1936, in response to urgent customer demand, in addition to making buckets of wax, the company began making small tins of shoe polish and cream-lacquer. The first automatic dosing machine facilitates wax can filling. Pending the construction of a shoe polish dosing machine, the small tins are filled using coffee machines, a delicate and time-consuming operation. More than 40,000 tins were filled “by the coffee pot” before the arrival of the automatic dosing machine.
Very soon, communities of Benedictine nuns called on Father Chervier’s experience to help them organize a business that would enable them to make a living. On February 1, 1937, the SOCIÉTÉ DES PRODUITS MONASTIQUES ET MISSIONNAIRES was formed, with its head office in Paris. This company was the commercial arm of the Abbey of Saint-Wandrille and the Benedictine monasteries of Rouen, Caen and Oulchy-le-Château (Aisne), three communities producing mainly confectionery and cookies: This company was originally intended to be a kind of federation, providing commercial services for a group of monasteries, each with a small industry, which explains the title “Produits Monastiques”, covering encaustic, nougat, cakes and chocolate… The company had a branch in Paris, as well as its head office, where management was exercised by laymen.
But war and invasion forced the Benedictine nuns of Oulchy-le-Château to leave their monastery and cease their manufacturing activities. The Benedictine nuns of Caen became independent from the company. The Benedictine nuns of Rouen remained with the company until 1944, when they regained their autonomy by founding their own company, “Magdala”.
At Saint-Wandrille, the outbreak of war brought an almost total halt to activity, before demand suddenly picked up again around November 1939. The years 1936-1940 had seen an initial organization of production, but the company’s rapid expansion led to the transfer of the head office to Saint-Wandrille, where the monks took over management of the business. On February 28, 1941, a meeting of La Société des Produits Monastiques et Missionnaires shareholders decided to change the company’s name to La Société des Produits Monastiques. The technical side of manufacturing would remain at the abbey, while the commercial side, entrusted to lay people, would be organized in Rouen, then Paris.
Soon, lay personnel would be needed to ensure production. Next, the factory will be electrified, electric cookers installed, new automatic machines installed, mixers, dosing machines, labeling machines and a delivery van. A high-voltage transformer will be built.
The fire in the abbey workshops on July 21, 1954, in which a monk was killed, far from halting the company’s expansion, led to modernization of the factory. At that time, 10 monks were working at Produits Monastiques, and 38 laymen, divided between Saint-Wandrille, Rouen and Paris, not to mention 35 sales representatives. Production in 1953 was 270 tons of polish, wax, shoe polish and other cleaning products. These figures give an idea of the importance of MELITTA at the time.
By 1967, the number of staff had fallen slightly, but the more efficient equipment enabled production of 300 tons. In 1971, the SARL was transformed into a Société Anonyme. Shortly afterwards, the sales and accounting departments left Paris and returned to Saint-Wandrille.
The decline in the number of druggists, who almost exclusively supplied the company’s clientele, and the presence of turpentine, white spirit and kerosene, all highly flammable products with safety constraints that were impossible to implement due to the historic monument status of the abbey buildings, led to the closure of encaustic and cleaning product manufacturing at Saint-Wandrille in 1990, marking the end of 55 years of industrial activity in the abbey enclosure.
The community of Saint-Wandrille had already turned to the tertiary sector, setting up a microcopy, microfilm and photocopy workshop under the name FONTENELLE MICROCOPIE in 1971.