BLOEMARDINNE (+ 1336)

Statue of Bloemardinne, Brussels City Hall by sculptor Désiré Weygers

The historian Lemmens includes her among the great figures of the Free Spirit and so writes about: “Bloemardine (Heilwege Blommaert) of Brussels (+1336). Probably issue from the upper classes, she owned several houses, lived, it is thought, near St. Gudule and would have been the neighbour of Ruusbroeck. She lent money to many clergymen, including canons of the chapter. Some clergymen considered her as “mulier religiosa” but she never lived in a beguinage. Obscure and confused personality, with passionately eloquence, she belonged to the mystical current of the thirteenth century, but she resumed more or less the ideas of Marguerite Porete. She also thought that man could attain a state in which both sin and moral development became impossible, and that in complete passivity before God, he could satisfy all his passions, even the most shameful. She was credited with an abundant literature in which the pantheistic tendencies of the Brothers of the Free Spirit were echoed. She herself seems to have sincerely believed in her theories and did not consider herself a heretic. She had powerful protectors in the upper classes of Brussels and the Duchy of Brabant; many supporters revered her and among them the wife of the duke of Brabant John III, Mary of Evreux, to whom she left as a relic after her death, the silver seat on which she sat to write and teach. She was credited with founding the Trinity Hospital in Brussels, which the St. Gudule Chapter refused to recognize for five years” (pp. 112-113).

Some authors, like Lemmens, recognize her in Heilwige Bloemard, daughter of alderman and pious beguine of Brussels who had founded a hospice in which she even treated the sick.
The influence of Bloemardine was considerable. Many of his followers attributed miracles to her. In recognition, they offered her a silver seat. This ceremonial chair was long kept in the treasure of the Court of Brussels.

In Le Monde des Religions of July-August 2017, Audrey Fella writes that she was devoted to the underprivileged and that she founded a home for the elderly, hence her great reputation in the Brussels population. The only confirmed information is the accusation addressed to her by Henri Pomerius, biographer of Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), who reports that she wrote “on the spirit of liberty and on a certain impious and voluptuous love which she called seraphic”. He accused her as “a perverse woman … venerated by a multitude of disciples who followed her opinions, she sat on a silver chair, teaching and writing.” She also had been strongly contrasted by Ruysbroeck himself in the book “The Kingdom of the Divine Lovers“. He was her most virulent opponent. He burned the writings of Bloemardine, much to the displeasure of the inhabitants of Brussels. But these controversies are not confirmed because no writing of her has reached us. At her death the silver seat was given to the Duchess of Brabant, Mary d’Evreux, and the hospice was taken over in 1371 by the chapter of St. Gudule, for which its founder was “worthy of praise and devoted to Christ”.

An effigy of Bloemardine is in the deambulatory of St. Gudula Church, this time in the form of a small head – symbolizing heresy – crushed by the furious heel of Jan van Ruysbroec.
Around 1900, the Municipal Administration of Brussels undertook to decorate more the facades of the Town Hall. A whole people of statues took their place on the main façade and on those on the side. Among them, the statue of Bloemardine is located at rue de la Tete d’Or, on the 2nd floor, to the right of the central window. On the base are two angels carrying the silver chair. In 1975, Brussels feminists of the “Open Door” movement celebrated the 640th anniversary of Bloemardine’s death by blooming the foot of the Town Hall wall and affixing a tribute sign, declaring her “the first feminist” of Brussels”. ( Ghislaine Verlacht, A la recherche des dames de  jadis…au coeur de Bruxelles, groupe Changeons les livres, p. 33 and following).

Sources:
Lemmens Joseph, Une révolution du monachisme en Belgique, XIIIe-XVIIe siècles, Le cri histoire, Bruxelles, 2009, (chapitre IV : les Béguines et les Beguins)
Audrey Fella, Le monde des religions de juillet-aout 2017
Ghislaine Verlacht, A la recherche des dames de jadis…au coeur de Bruxelles, groupe Changeons les livres