Whether they are famous or not, in this repertoire all the beguines I’ve encountered are here mentioned. We want to pay tribute to all these weavers of the beguinal movement.
Sometimes the traits of their vocation are inaccurate or may change with time, because life itself is modifiable and the beguinal choice offers multiple ways of living. In addition, lay and religious elements intertwine in beguinal life, and ecclesiastical pressures are not absent
A short biography of each of them is (will be) presented and whenever possible a blue link refers to a wider description of their life. I have written in red the traits that allow us to include them among the beguines or near the beguinal movement.
Both traditional and modern beguines, but only the dead ones, are remembered, because they all belong to the same history. The list will always be incomplete because the memory is still being reconstructed, but with the women whom we find here, we are really in good company.
Here they are:
Agnès d’ANTHÉE (XIVe)
Aleydis VAN KAMERIJK ( de CAMBRAI ) (+1235)
Alyt BAKE ( 1415-1455 )
Angela da FOLIGNO (1248-1309)
Angelica BONFANTINI (+1244)
Angelina di MONTEGIOVE (1357-1435)(or di MARSCIANO)
Anna VAN SCHRIECK (Anversa, + 1688)
Anna CORDEYS (Dienst e Lovanio, +1720)
Béatrice de NAZARETH(+/-1200-1268)
BLOMARDINNE (+ 1355)
Caterina da BOLOGNA (1413-1463)
Cecilia FERRAZZI(1609 – 1684)
Chiara da MONTEFALCO (1268-1308)
Chiara da RIMINI (1282-1346)
Criste TSFLPGHELEERE (XVe )
Christina EBNER (1277-1356)
Cristina di MARKYATE (1096-1115)
Christine COUCKE (XVe)
Christine de SINT-TRUIDEN (+/- 1160-1224)
Christine de STOMMELN (1242-1312) (de Stumbele ?)
Clusin ou Claesinne NIEUWLANT (Gent, + 1611)
COLETTE (+/- 1381-1447)
Dorothée de MONTAU (1347-1394)
Douceline de DIGNE(+/-1214/15 et 1274)
Elizabeth de BERG (XIIIe)
Sainte Elisabeth d’HONGRIE
Elisabeth de SPALBEEK (1246–1304)
Elisabeth de THURINGE (1207-1231)
Eve de SAINT MARTIN (1190-1265)
Francesca ROMANA al secolo Ceccolella Bussi , (+1440),
Gertrude RICKELDEYof ORTENBERG (+ 1335) and Heilke of STAUFENBERG (+ dopo il 1335).
Gertrude VAN OOSTEN(+ 1358)
HADEWIJCH (+1250 ca)
Ida of GORSLEEUW (+ dopo il 1262)
Ida van LEEUW (+ 1260 ca)
Ida de LOUVAIN + 1300
Ida de NIVELLES (1197-1232)
Isabelle DEWIT (XVIIIe)
Ivana CERESA (1942-2009)
Ivette ou Jutta de HUY (1157-1228)
Jeanne d’ARC (1412-1431)
Joan d’ANTHÉE (XIVe)
Julienne de CORNILLON (1193-1258)
Julienne de NORWICH (1342 – 1413)
Jutta de LOOZ (ou de Huy) (+ 1227)
Katherina VANDER HULST (XVe)
KATREI Soeur (XIVe)
Linke DOBBE (XVIe)
Lutgarde de TREVES (+1231)
Lydwine de SCHIEDAM (1380-1433)
Margherita di CORTONA
Maria Bendetta di CARIGNANOe Maria Angela CANAL (XV° secolo)
Maria VAN HOUT (+1547
Marie di GREZ(+1271)
Marie d’OIGNIES (1177-1213)
Marie PETYT (1623-1677)
Marcella PATTIJN (1920- 2013)
Marcella VAN HOECKE (1908-2008)
Margherita d’ARLON (+1414)
Marguerite PORETE (+1310)
Marguerite d’YPRES (+1234 o 37)
Mechthild de MAGDEBURG (1208/10 – 1282)
Odile de LIÈGE (+1220)
Philippinne de PORCELLET (Marsiglia)
Rita da CASCIA (1381-1457)
Romana GUARNIERI (1913-2004)
Sofia del fu BARTOLO
SPARRONE (Aix en Provence)
Uda (o Oda) da THORENBAIS (XIIIe)
Ysabiaus de WARLAING (XIVe)
Angelica BONFANTINI (+1244)
Around the year 1190, Angelica decides to leave her wealthy family (Father Caicle of Bonfantino and her mother Bologna) and retires as a hermit on a land of the Colle della Guardia offered by her family. In the succeeding years a community is formed and in 1194, the bishop of Bologna, Gerardo Ghisla, on the order of Celestine III, places the first stone of the Church of San Luca.
Can we consider Angelica like a beguine ? In my opinion, yes. In fact, in “101 donne che hanno fatto grande Bologna – 101 women who have done Bologna great ” (Newton Comptoir Editori, 2012), Serena Bersani says : “It is not clear in which area of religious institutions Angelica has been placed. Certainly she did not make vows for a certain rule, but she was a woman who had converted to religious life, voted to hermitage and after to the constitution of a coenobitic community form. Even though she did not belong to an institutionalized religious structure, she always had the approval of the apostolic office and of the Bishop of Bologna. “(P.25) It is also reported that after received the land donated by her mother, two years later Angelica decided to give it to the canons of Santa Maria di Reno “to reserve the usufruct to life in exchange they helped to build the church and the monastery where they would then host later.” The act was formalized in front of a notary on July 30, 1192. However, litigations started with the canons and so Angelica managed to get them started thanks to a papal Bull. The possessions passed under the jurisdiction of the Holy See. After her father died, her mother bought other land on the hill and her example was imitated by other Bologna’s benefactors. At the death of Angelica, quite old, in 1244, the church and the monastery were already well-established and ready to transform from a hermitic community to a monastic community.
Blessed Angelina da Montegiove is a woman from the region of Umbria, who lived between the century XIV and XV, known as the founder of the Third Cloistered Franciscan Order. In reality she believed in the possibility of living a form of consecrated alternative to the monastic life. She believed in it and she obtained an official recognition, allowing not only herself and her companions but also many women to come out of illegality, which had been the condition of many for decades. This paved the way for other women who could not be set off on a path of consecration, due to the limited number of entrances to monasteries. The latter ones are largely women of Umbria who lived a similar experience of Angelina, in Foligno, Assisi and Todi, while supporting each other. In the following decades, groups of women from other cities of central Italy – Florence, Ascoli, Viterbo and later Perugia and L’Aquila – will join them and their relationship will become more intense to the point of deciding to found a congregation in 1428, the Congregation of Foligno. Angelina becomes the general minister with the authority to visit, exhort, transfer the sisters from one sorority to another. We are faced with a reality of women who wish to live intensely their spiritual life, similar to that found in the beguinages of Flemish Europe. Their experience in Italy, after a few decades from the approval, was repeatedly hindered because it was considered in contrast with the attempt of reform carried out by the second generation of Franciscan Observers and it took the humble tenacity of Angelina and her sisters not to succumb and keep faith with the happy intuition they were bearers of.
The historical figure of Hadewijch is still surrounded by uncertainty: her work offers few bibliographical references and there is no “Vita” (biography) dedicated to her. The Brabantine language of her writings places her in the Duchy of Brabant, in Antwerp according to a late tradition or perhaps in Brussels. It is thought she was active around the mid-thirteenth century, but others place her at the beginning of the XIV century. Only her work remains: 31 letters in prose and 16 in rimes, 45 songs and 14 visions. In Dutch literature Hadewijch plays a fundamental role since she is one of the first authors to make prose and mysticism, an exception in this literature. Women-mystic-prose: it has been emphasized that this link is not a coincidence. Hadewijch spoke of God not in Latin but in vulgar Dutch. By a creative and daring operation the language of mysticism came out of the world of clergy and was reformulated into vulgar. Most probably Hadewijich was a beguine, a form of religious life sprung up within the vast women’s religious movement, which experienced an extraordinary flowering in the regions of Brabant and in the diocese of Liège. H. Grundmann has shown that the birth of spiritual literature in the vernacular is directly related to the extension of this feminine movement. From her writings it emerges that Hadewijch was a guide of a group of friends whom she exhorted to live radically for the Minne, the noble Love, the only theme of her life, metaphor of the relationship between lovers, therefore also between a woman and God. So she wrote for these friends letters, songs and visions, works that manifest her familiarity with the Bible, the patristic, the mystics of the twelfth century and the lyrics of the courtly love that she adopted, especially for the songs, the style and the themes and, as recent discovered, the melodies: she spoke of the courtly love to speak about the mystical love. So she addresses a friend: “Try that nothing less than minne is enough for you“
Ivana Ceresa was born in 1942 in the province of Mantua (Italy), where she will then live until her death in 2009. Since her high school, she wanted to be a theologian, but she must wait after the Second Vatican Council to access the theological faculty, inaccessible to women until the 1970s. She became then a literary teacher and only later a theologian. Her book “Dire Dio al femminile” (Saying God in the Women way) was for many women a stimulus to become conscious of gender issues and of the need for an exit from the patriarchate. Ivana called herself a beguine and said, “I’m the beguine of every age, because I’m in a way in incognito … I love in the manner of beguines, in a nonconformist and a bit transgressive” (Ivana Ceresa, Utopia and conserves it, Three Moon Editions, Mantua, 2011). Her friendship with Romana Guarneri, the historian who identified in 1946 the book of Marguerite Porete, and with Luisa Muraro, a great scholar of the beguinal movement, reinforced this identification that led her to say “to be a beguine today is to continue the choice of these women, that is to live in the world without being in the world“. In 1996, Ivana achieved her most important realization: the foundation of the Order of Sorority of Mary SS. Coronation, recognized by the Bishop of Mantua, Egidio Caporello, in March 18, 2002. In the introduction to the Rule of Order of Sorority, Ivana refers to the beguines of the North and how they expressed strong female freedom with their autonomy and independence towards ecclesiastical and secular control. For the same raison, also Sorority states: “We are women called by the Holy Spirit to make visible the presence of women in the Church and in the world“.
“This is the story of Sister Katrei, (spiritual, ndt) daughter of Meister Eckhart in Strasbourg” (p.11). With this enigmatic incipit, it opens a text of the fourteenth century, written in medium-high German, included by Franz Pfeiffer in the volume dedicated to Master Eckhart. But who is sister Katrei ? Marco Vannini, editor of the Italian edition, assumes that most likely Katrei was a beguine, very inspired by the thought of Eckhart. Even such a humble girl, she eventually surpassed the Master for the radicality of her conclusions. Perhaps because he was more than her “worried about saving compatibility of his tought with the ecclesiastical institution” (p.11) Vannini argues.
Katrei is considered a beguine because she could operate her choices freely, move her residence and be independent of any authority. The name sister perhaps intervenes to indicate her belonging to the Free Spirit movement, with which Eckhart also had contacts. For this he was accused of heresy and called to a trial, but he died during the journey to go and justify himself to the pope.
At that time there were 85 houses of beguines in Strasbourg and 169 in Cologne. These places were well known and frequented by Master Eckhart, especially during his position as Vicar General of the Order from 1314 in Strasbourg, but also in Cologne where he tought in the Dominican Studium perhaps starting from 1324.
In her profound spiritual experience, collected in the above mentioned manuscript, Katrei arrives at the conclusion of being able to achieve a stable condition of grace (bewerung in German), of permanent union with God. Not the God (gotten) determined in the ways of the various religions, but the unnamed Deity (gotheit), bottomless bottom, which no one can not appropriate. This happens through “that complete disappearance … or that complete annihilation that necessarily involves the bonds and religious contents” (p.17).
From : Pseudo Master Eckhart, Diventare Dio. L’insegnamento di sorella Katrei, a cura di Marco Vannini, Adelphi edizioni, Milano, 2006
Marie was born in Nivelles (Belgium) in 1177 by wealthy parents, who became later disappointed for her indifference towards rich clothes and ornaments. Although she well knows the Cistercian world, she does not want to become a monastic nun. At 14, her parents forced her to marry Jean, also from a wealthy family of Nivelles. Immediately after marriage, finally out of parental control, she initiates intense ascetic practices of fasting, prayer and charity. After a few months from the marriage, Jean lives a conversion that brings him closer to God. Together they decide for an “apostolic life” that also involved a conjugal relationship as brother and sister, without sexual relations. Then, they leave their home in Nivelles and join an informal community of apostolic life not far away, in Willambroux, near a leper colony. They will remain there for 12 (or maybe 15) years. Jean’s brother, Guido, is chaplain of the local church and spiritual director of this community.
Together with the other members of the community, Marie and Jean nurture and care for lepers, but also for others ill or poor, instruct children, offer religious education and pray together.
Mary becomes a “living saint”; many people talk about her and want to see her. She has a reputation for effective prayers, she can read in people’s souls, recognizing also the state of salvation or sin and invites people to repent. Too disturbed by these crowds coming from the city and surroundings, in 1207 she moved to Oignies near the priory of St Nicolas, living as a recluse in a cell next to the choir of the church. It was a life of fasts and prayers, but also offering spiritual advices. In 1208, she meets Jacques de Vitry, a canon coming from Paris to meet her and eventually become her disciple. Marie urges him to return to Paris, where he is ordained in 1210, and then to come back to Oignies to serve the lepers and the needy. Mary becomes his “magistra”, inaugurating a deep spiritual friendship, in which they were mutual guides to each other. Marie is also remembered for her preaching, a practice adopted by the beguines, at least before the prohibition of Gregory IX in 1228, and for her gift of prophecy. She is known for her incredible fasts, the last of which lasts for 53 days. At her death at the age of 36 she weighed 33kg. However, contrary to what is sometimes read, she did not receive the stigmata. She is so honored that she is considered the “first beguine”, given that around her the first historically established beguinal community was formed. She died on 23 June 1213, the day when she is commemorated as a Blessed in the Roman Martyrology. Each year, on the first Sunday after June 23, a procession with the urn of her relics leaves from the church of Notre Dame de Oignies
After her death there was much talk about her: it seems that even Francis of Assisi was one of his admirers and that pope Gregory IX (1227-1241), “stopped cursing only by wearing the finger of Maria d’Oignies around his neck“, as curiously reported by Chiara Frugoni (Vita di un uomo: Francesco d’Assisi (Life of a man: Francis of Assisi), Einaudi, p.44).
Wife, mother, then widow and finally Augustinian nun: these are the successive stages that have been used to describe the life of Saint Rita da Cascia. However, the careful study of the scholar Lucetta Scaraffia advances a new hypothesis on the fact that the Monastery of Saint Mary Magdalen, where Rita found hospitality, was firstly rather a beguinal house. She writes “Even the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalen, probably, was a house of “bizzoche” [Italian word for beguines in that region] then passed under the control of the Augustinians. The very name that refers to a life of penance rather than withdrawal from the world, and the presence of a female confraternity of the Santissima Annunziata in the church of the same name, formerly linked to the monastery, seem to confirm this hypothesis”. Also, the historian Lucetta states that “Although the visitors to the Monastery in 1465 refer of a Augustinian rule, we know that, in many cases, such a reference constituted a mere regularity clause, necessary for the bishop’s approval, but did not correspond to a real dependence on this institution. Similar cases have been found in the Spoleto valley, where, out of thirteen female foundations built at the end of the 13th century, only seven were institutionalized by the bishops, six of which declared themselves to have assumed the Augustinian rule, but even after the Council of Trento the apostolic visitors denounced the beguinal state of the women who were part of them“. (From Lucetta Scaraffia, La santa degli impossibili, Vita e pensiero, Milano, 2014, p.108-109).
Romana was a passionate and very generous scholar, as all those who approached her recognize. Speaking with her I realized almost immediately that she was the depositary of the richness of the mystical feminine theology which I had just glimpsed. That is the richness of an admirable season of European civilization, between the Low Middle Ages and the dawn of modernity. Romana had accumulated them over the years, assimilated with intimate participation and now placed them at my disposal.
Ours have been a long relation, marked by regular stays in her house, by long conversations and by some extra moenia excursions. Everything was beautiful, nothing was easy, just as it should have be.
At first Romana told me of her friendship with Don Giuseppe De Luca, of her conversion to the Catholic Church and of their intense collaboration in the publishing house that they had founded together, until his death, arrived too early. I learned to know her. She did not appraise from conventional courtesy or from other exteriorities, but from the interiority. She did so, however, remaining connected to her counter part, as proof of a strength and a calm that nourished each other. Romana had a special gift, she loved souls. Out of the subjects of study, if she was not solicited, she did not speak about religion but always had a wide window open to the sky. At the centre of her conversion and her faith, Romana put the friendship and love of Jesus, just as she called it. When questioned by me, she said that they were superior to the friendship and love that bound her to Don Giuseppe De Luca, the man who made her meet with her Jesus. Without any doubt she had proved her superior fidelity to this supernatural love, in the friendship itself that bound her to the man without ever becoming an attachment nor, much less, an addiction. Yes, she was a free woman and so she was thanks to God. She was a Beguine.
To read the full Italian text sent to us by Luisa Muraro click the following link: Romana Guarnieri testo completo.