recorded on 2015 at Abbaye
of Keizerberg in Leuven
HADEWIJCH d’Anvers, Les chants, Éditions de Veerle Fraeters et Franck Willaert avec une reconstitution des mélodies par Louis Peter Grijp, Préface de Jacques Darras, Traduction du (moyen) néerlandais par Daniel Cunin, Albin Michel, 2019
In this section are listed the biographies of the most famous admirers, and therefore also supporters, of the beguines. As for the portraits of the beguines, here too the list will be always incomplete and unachieved. The names of the both are generally written in the original language.
Let’s start by recalling that it was thanks to these men, sometimes anonymous, that we were able to know the “vitae” of the following beguines with their associated biographer:
Marie d’Oignies (+1213) Jaques de Vitry and Thomas de Cantimpré
Odilia di Liegi (+1220) Anonymous priest of St Lambert of Liège
Juetta di Huy (+1228) Hugo di Floreffe, Premostratensian
Christine de Saint trond (+1228) Thomas de Cantimpré
Christine de Stommeln (+1312) Pierre de Dacie
Ida di Nivelles (+1231) Goswin di Bossut, Cistercian
Ida di Leuven (+after 1231) Anonymous Cistercian
Margherita d’Ypres (+1234) Thomas de Cantimpré
Julienne de Mont –Cornillon (+1259) Anonynous priest of St Martin of Liège
Ida di Gorsleeuw (+after 1262) Anonymous Cistercian
Beatrice di Nazareth (+1268) Anonymous Cistercian
Chiara da Rimini (+1326) cardinal Giuseppe Garampi (+1792)
Maria Petyt (+ 1677) Michael de St. Augustin (+ 1684)
Here is a first list of their admirers-protectors. Every name is linked with a short biography below :
Adolphe de la MARCK (1288-1344)
Bishop of Liège, he protects the beguines by convincing Pope John XXII and by his initiatives in their favour in his diocese. On August 13, 1318, under the pressure of generous protectors (including Bishop Adolphe de La Marck himself), John XXII by his bull “Ratio recta” deletes the sentence promulgated six years ago against the beguines of the Netherlands and the region of Liège.
Cesarius of HEISTERBACH (1180-1240)
He was a German abbot and a writer, prior of the former Cistercian abbey of Heisterbac. Césarius spoke about the beguines in very laudatory terms, as the Walter Simons reported in his book Cities of Ladies (p.35): “Cesarius of Heisterbach, a Cistercian monk living in the region of Cologne and well informed about goings-on in Low Countries, affirmed that “Although those [holy] women, whom we known to be very numerous in the diocese of Liège, live among the people wearing lay clothes, they still surpass many of cloister in the love of God. They live the eremitical life among the crowds, spiritual among the worldly and virginal among those who seek pleasure. As their battle is greater, so is their grace, and a greater crown will await them”.
Dieudonné DUFRASNE (1938-2017)
Dieudonné Dufrasne was born in 1938 in Cuesmes in the Belgian coalfield Borinage. Became a Benedictine monk in 1959 and then ordained priest in 1963, Dieudonné was one of the founders of the monastery of Clerlande where his funeral was celebrated on 27 October 2017. There, he was above all interested in liturgical renewal, but also in the animation of groups and the generous personal welcome that I also received during my research on the beguines. His name will remain linked at the publication in 2007 of Libres et folles d’amour (Free and love’s crazy), one of the first popular works on the beguinal movement, later translated into Italian with the beautiful title “Donne moderne del Medioevo” (Modern Women of the Middle Ages). The book reveals his deep admiration for the loving boldness of the beguines and features three of them: Mechthild of Magdebourg, Hadewijch and Marguerite Porete.
Dieudonné was “A man of God close to the people. His sweetness, his intelligence, his right word express how much he care to be a witness of a God who has become flesh for our joys and our pains” writes Marcela Lobo in one of the 52 commemorative texts.
ECKHART Master (ca 1260-1328)
Perhaps his name was John, he was born in Hochheim, in Thuringia, around 1260, in a family of the little nobility. He entered the Dominican order, held his novitiate in Erfurt, then in 1285 he was sent to the Dominican General Studium in Cologne, where Albertus Magnus (+1280) and Thomas Aquinas (+1274) had worked.
On 18 April 1294 he was in Paris as a reader of the Sentences of Pietro Lombardo, his first teaching position, under which he obtained the license for the doctorate in theology, a condition for a chair. He was also, like Thomas Aquinas, twice magister actu regens, professor at the University of Paris. His last teaching position was in Cologne. He writes in the vernacular language four treaties and about 120 sermons.
Master Eckhart was also a man of government as prior of the convent of Erfurt from 1294 to 1298 and vicar of Thuringia. In 1303, he was provincial prior of the Dominican province of Saxony, then in 1307 of the province of Bohemia. In 1324 in Strasbourg he held the post of vicar general with jurisdiction over the female monasteries of the Order of Preachers. Himself a great preacher, he was reproached for preaching to the laity the great theological reflections in the German language. Following a challenge to his preaching by two Dominicans, slanderers and intrigues, the Archbishop of Cologne, Henry II of Virneburg, an inquisition process against Master Eckhart was initiated in 1326. For that, he appeals to the Apostolic See of Avignon, where the trial will take place, but he died in 1328 during the trip. On March 27, 1329, Pope John XXII promulgated the Bull In agro dominico, by which he condemned twenty-eight propositions drawn from Master Eckhart’s works.
Great figure of the German mysticism, during the 10 years of his mandate as Vicar General of the Dominican Order in Strasbourg, Master Eckhart protects the beguines and intervenes in their support. Later he will be a frequent visitor to the beguinage in Cologne. As Jacqueline Kelen notes in her book on Hadewijch, Master Eckhart drew many themes from the l béguinal mysticism that he later developed, such as deepening of the inner life, contemplative union without intermediaries, deification, annihilation in the One.
Foulque de TOULOUSE (or MARSEILLE) (c.1155-1231)
He was born from a Genoese family established in Marseille. After being a merchant and poet, he became a Cistercian monk, since his love for Eudoxie de Montpellier is not paid. So, in 1195, he wrote his last poem and entered the Order. He will then be a Bishop of Toulouse and will participate in the crusade against the Albigensians. Looking for refuge in Liège, he discovered the beguines who stroked him very much and who elected them as example. Taking a temporal refuge in Oignies, he insisted with Jacques de Vitry to write Marie d’Oignies’ Life, since he considered her “defensor Dei” and an effective example in the struggle against the Catharses. This is why Jacques will dedicate this work to him.
Gabriele TARDIO (1954-2013) Gabriele was born in San Marco in Lamis (Foggia) on 27 September 1954 and prematurely died on 18 June 2013. He worked for his land, to spread his culture, to share his faith, to give continuity to the its history. Among his works, we find several studies that refer to beguines, nuns and hermits in the areas of his knowledge and to some devotional rites typical of that context. All his studies are freely available to the public. It was an figure of reference in the scout group entrusted to him, a researcher and scholar, held in high regard by the “experts”, a man imbued with a simple but robust spirituality, which has always supported him in his life choices, has always distinguished by its active commitment to emergency situations and attention to the last, also taking care of their physical needs. Love for his origins has always brought him back to his country even after the novitiate in Assisi and his stay in Teora among the earthquake victims and the displaced people of the terrible earthquake of the 80s. Having settled in the family home, near Stignano, he continued, as his friends in the “Valley of Hermitages“, to make history with “his feet” through each path that could lead him to understand and find a piece of the puzzle of our culture.
Particular attention was devoted to the study of the tradition of “fracchie” that he lived as a true moment of devotion to the Sorrowful Mother and as a ring of continuity between the different generations of this people. He has made numerous publications available to everyone free of charge. In fact, he wrote: “culture is free, priceless … research serves to stimulate other knowledge, so those who want to get rich give us some of their knowledge“. (source : https://www.lefracchie.eu/index.php/gabriele-tardio)
Geert GROTE (1340-1384)
Canon and notable in the Dutch city of Deventer, Geert Grote knew very well the world of the beguines and most probably he took inspiration for the foundation of the Devotio Moderna, a movement – the brothers and sisters of the common life – for a poor, personal and secular Christianity which was very successful in Belgium, Holland and West Germany, This movement is considered one of the anticipations of the Reformation. The Devotio Sisters had the term beguine as their nickname, but unlike these, they lived in community of goods (Charles Caspers, Breda, 2017).
Grote had great esteem for the beguines who, though not pronouncing their perpetual vows, lived in evangelical simplicity and were certainly not less religious than the clergy.
Goswin de BOSSUT (13th)
Cistercian of the abbey of Villers, he is the alleged author of the Life of Ida of Nivelles and perhaps of other beguines’ biographies. In fact, intense contacts, informal and non-institutional, existed between the monks of Villers and the beguines of the area of Nivelles-Oignies.
Guiard de CRESSONESSART (13th-14th)
Cleric of the diocese of Beauvais, he was imprisoned in 1308 and sentenced to life in prison in 1310 for having helped and defended Marguerite Porete. Romana Guarnieri writes about him: “A strenuous defender of ‘apostolic life’, he declares himself sent by Christ to support and save those faithfuls who have given everything and live in perfect poverty, and for this they are persecuted”
Guido de NIVELLES (+1227)
Priest, brother-in-law of Marie d’Oignies, Guido was the chaplain of the leper colony of Willambroux, when Marie and her husband were also there. Later he practiced in the chapel of the adjacent beguinal community until his death in 1227.
Hugues de PIERREPONT (+1229)
Prince bishop of Liege from 1200 to 1229, he welcomes and promotes in his diocese the female penitential movement, of which Marie d’Oignies is one of the best known figures.
Jacques PANTALÉON (1195-1264) Archdeacon of Liège, he was a great admirer of Julienne, the beguine-recluse of Mont-Cornillon, and later Augustinian nun, who, following a vision, promoted the Corpus Christi Feast. He will support her with Robert de Thourotte, the Bishop of Liège. When then he became Pope himself, Urban IV (1261-64), with his 1264 Bull “Transiturus de hoc mundo“, will officially formalize this feast and set it aside for the whole Church.
Jacques de VITRY (1170-1240)
A native of Vitry-sur-Seine (Reims), parish priest d’Argentueil, «magister parisiensis», canonical regular in Saint Nicolas d’Oignies, Archbishop of Acre (1216), auxiliary of the Bishop-Prince of Liège, Cardinal Bishop of Frascati (1228), he died in Rome in 1240. He accompanied the Crusaders in the siege of Damietta (1218).
A great defender of the beguines, he helped to support them and to make them recognized by ecclesiastical authority. Jacques de Vitry was struck by the figure of Marie d’Oignies, about whom he wrote a “Vita” in view of her beatification. He left Paris, where he was a teacher of theology: “Tired of dry studies and worldliness and thirsty for inner life, he ended up settling near her (Marie) as a canon of the small and poor Augustinian priory” (Romana Guarnieri, Donne e chiesa tra mistica e istituzioni,, p.76). Deeply struck by her wisdom, he gave up teaching to become a humble itinerant preacher. From now on Marie will be the inspirer of all his sermons. For Jacques, women like Marie could save Christianity from heresy.
Jan van RUUSBROEC or RUYSBROEC or RUYSBROECK (1293-1381)
He frequented the beguinal environment very closely, as his mother spent the last few years in the Brussels beguinage, after leaving the village of Ruysbroeck in order to be close to her son who was becoming a priest at the St. Gudule Cathedral in Brussels. Ruusbroec himself assumes the spiritual guidance of a community of beguines in Brussels. After 20 years of parish service, he retired to Groenendal with two other companions to live a more contemplative life. “When we refer to those times, the foundation of Goenendal may appear as something else from the desire for a spiritual life away from parochial concerns and assignments. It was to take the right path between the corruption of the clergy and the unruliness of the madmen of love breaking with the Church “(Claude-Henri Rocquet, p.45)
In fact, as Ruusbroec expresses himself in his Del tabernacolo spirituale: “Look at the princes of the Church and tell me if they are good shepherds. Their palaces are full of servants. From them greatness and power abound, wealth of the world. Their table collapses with dishes and nectar, their closets and their trunks are full of precious clothes and jewels, they have in abundance all the most magnificent is offered by the earth. But they never get enough and the more they receive, the more they want. They are similar to the miserable world hungry for earthly goods because it does not have the taste of God “.
Many traits of his spirituality are of beguinal origin. Paul Verdeyen affirms that “he had to be greatly influenced by the writings of the beguine Hadewijch and we can even say that Ruusbroec and his brothers have “saved” the literary posterity of Hadewijch. In fact, anyone who knows the history of women’s writings of this era, knows that the beguine Hadewijch had to cope with numerous problems“. Sweet, humble, luminous, solitary, in the fifteenth century the Carthusian Denys nicknamed him the Admirable for the depth and quantity of his works written in the mother tongue, the thiois, the old Flemish. A very different view of Ruusbroec is given by Jacqueline Kelen who reproaches him for having “expropriated” Hadewijch without having mentioned her even once.
(Sources: Les activités de Ruusbroec à Bruxelles, Paul VERDEYN sj lecture on 14 February 1998 – Claude-Henri ROQUET, Petite vie de Ruysbrouck, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 2003 – Jacqueline KELEN, Hadewijch d’Anvers ou la voie glorieuse, Albin Michel, 2011).
Jean de NIVELLES (+ shortly after 1219)
An important figure in the ecclesiastical environment of Liège, he later retired to the monastery of Oignies, between 1215 and 1219. He had considerable influence on the development of the first nucleus of beguines in Liège, without being the founder. Jacques de Vitry said of him that he was light, teacher and spiritual father of the entire diocese.
Lambert LE BÈGUE (1131 – 1180 or 1187)
He was a priest of Liege from which some have erroneously derived the name of “beguine”, while it would be more correct to suppose that the epithet “Le Bègue” was attributed for his protection towards the beguines. He was also considered the founder of the beguinal movement following an idea emerged in the clerical environment around 1250 to assert the male prominence. According to Professor D’Haenens, the epithet Bègue would be written Bège and would allude to the rough wool dress brought by Lambert and his disciples. He was arrested, mistreated and imprisoned in the castle of Revogne-lez-Rochefort, then taken to prison in Rome because his preaching against the scandals and simony of the Church of Liege. It seems that he had sent a critical text to Pope Callistus III – the Antigraphum Petri (the defence of Peter) – in which he denounced the laxity of the priests. At that time, many clerics lived openly with their spouses.
The vernacular translation of the Acts of the Apostles (translated in rhyme so that the illiterate people could memorize them more easily), of some texts of the New Testament and of Lives of Saints, among them that of Saint Agnes, caused him a sentence and prison. But rehabilitated by Pope Callistus III to whom he had sent an apology in his defence, he returned to Liège where he died a short time later (in 1180 or 1187 according to the sources). Shortly before his death, he would have built a church in Saint Christophe at his own expense and some small houses to welcome women who wanted to live under his direction, away from the world or, as others say, a retreat house for single women, widows of the crusaders. (Sources: J.Delmelle, Lemmens, pp. 103-105, Simons)
Louis IX (saint) (1214-1270)
He became king of France at the age of 12. He lead two crusades (VII and VIII). In 1260 he founded the great Beguinage of Paris, which he placed directly under his protection and entrusted the first direction to a Flemish «Magistra», Agnès de Orchies. This beguinage, which will be closed in 1471, could host about 400 women, widows or unmarried young ladies.
Louis MASSIGNON (1883-1962)
Orientalist and French theologian, great scholar of Islam and in particular of its mysticism, he was very impressed by the beguine Christine of Sint Truiden (+1224). He considers her as a saint while Pius IX (in 1857) institutes her like Blessed. At the invitation of Fr.Van Straeten, rector of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, that preserves the relics of Saint Chistine and serve in the sanctuary of Steenart, Louis Massignon prepares a study and a conference for Thursday 24 July (the day of her death) 1924, in the 7th centenary of her death. This text will then be published in La Cité chrétienne and in 1950 in a tribute volume. The figure of Christine hits Massignon on different levels, personal and spiritual. In Gedenkboek published in 1950 we read: “L.Massignon professor at the Collège de France, who in 1924, on the occasion of the 7th centenary of the death of St. Christine, had asked to be able to glorify the saint in gratitude for the grace of his conversion which he attributes to our virgin of Sint Truiden “(p.350). On the scientific and spiritual level, the text presents the Massignon’s reflection on the themes of substitution, the reparative oblation of “special victims” and allows him to “argue” on the themes of miracles and supernatural phenomena. (Source: MASSIGNON Louis, Ecrits mémorables, Tome I, Laffont, Paris, 2009)
Mario SENSI (1939 – 2015)
Born in Assisi in 1939, he was ordained a priest in 1963 and soon after was appointed parish priest of Colfiorito. Doctor of theology (1967) and then Doctor of Philosophy (1970), in October 1988, he was appointed professor of Church History at the Pontifical Lateran University, becoming, in 2002, professor of History of the ancient and medieval Church. Since October 2009 he has been professor emeritus. It has brought out in the history many beguinal communities of Central Italy with a meticulous expertise. To him we owe the most complete monographs of these experiences, arose from “ a solitary, slow, silent and tireless study” as Romana Guarnieri, his great friend, had to say. The work, in two volumes, which sums it up is “Mulieres in Ecclesia. Storie di monache e bizzzoche”, Italian Center of Studies on the High Middle Ages, Spoleto, 2010
Since the 1960s, Mario Sensi, then a twenty-year-old seminarian, came across the beguines of the thirteenth century and explored various parish and diocesan archives, “bringing out a dense landscape from the thick fog, inhabited by a crowd of minor female figures … all these linked by a moving “gender” solidarity, attested by countless wills, left by wealthy women in favour of other women poorer than them, both of then being pious“(Guarnieri, p.408). In Umbria they were many. Don Sensi was also a dynamic animator of the ecclesiastical archival association.
Pierre de DACIE (between 1230/40 – 1289)
He is one of the most important writers in the Latin language of Swedish literature. Pierre was born in Visby (Island of Gotteland) between 1230-1240. Around 1250, he entered as a novice in the convent of the friar preachers of his hometown (the term “Dominicans” will be in use only from the sixteenth century), where he pronounced his vows. He is of a neurasthenic temperament, with a personality dedicated to the rigor of the Dominican discipline. The meeting with the beguine Christine de Stommeln in 1267 in Cologne, where he finished his studies at the Studium founded by Alberto Magno, will upset his spiritual life.
On December 20, 1267, introduced by his brother Walter, he went to visit this beguine who knows ecstasy, hallucinations and stigmata. Between 1267 and 1269, Pierre meets Christine 13 times and then goes to study in Paris near Thomas Aquinas, where he will stay more than a year and from there he will begin a correspondence that will end only at his death. On his return from Paris he meets Christine for the 14th time on 29 of September 1270. He returns to Sweden where he teaches philosophy and theology and will be prior in various monasteries. Taking advantage of a trip to Cologne, where he went for his heart problems, he will make a 15th visit to Christine and will try to take her to Sweden on three occasions.
A final visit will take place in 1287 on his return from the general chapter of Bordeaux. In 1288 his health diminishes. He dies during Lent in 1289. Christine survived him for 23 years. Peter wrote Christine’s Life, made reports of his visits and collected 38 of their letters (those of Christine are dictated to her confessors).
The relationship with Christine helped him to overcome his natural melancholy and to express a form of lyricism, more inspired by the psalms than by the poetry. Ernest Renan was interested in this “monastic idyll”, a jewel of spiritual friendship.
Robert de SORBON (1201-1274)
He was born in a peasant family in a small Ardennes village. He studied to become a priest, was promoted a doctor and provided a rectory in the church of Cambrai. His sermons and lectures earned him a good reputation and King (Saint) Louis IX chose him as chaplain and perhaps as a confessor. He is the founder of the Sorbonne where laymen who study theology can be relieved of material difficulties. The Aline Kiner’s novel La nuit des beguines tells us that Robert de Sorbon kept sermons in the great beguinage in Paris and defended the beguines. The historian Grundmann writes that “In the middle of the 13th century, at the University of Paris, two theologians were teaching close to each other: one, Robert de Sorbon, saw the Beguines and the Papelards as particularly pious people, who for their authentic and fervent piety they were despised and mocked by the supporters of a worldly life; the other William of Saint Amour, fanatical opponent of the whole poverty movement, hurled his vehement insults and his insinuations full of mockery against the Beguines and the Papelards “(Grundmann, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, Il Mulino, 1974 p.339 )
Thomas de CANTIMPRE (+1272)
Younger of one generation of Jacques de Vitry, Thomas de Cantimpré was born in Bellingen in the Flemish Brabant (south of Brussels) around 1200. Son of a noble family, destined to become a priest, at 6 he was sent to the Abbey of Cantimpré where he attended up to his 17 years
the courses of the capitular school of the cathedral. He will be officially integrated into this community of regular canons and will receive priestly ordination in 1223. The entry of Thomas among the Dominicans in 1232 marks a new stage: he takes the habit in the convent of Leuven where he will almost always live, except for short stays in Paris, Trier and Cologne. Following the Dominican spirit, he immediately resumed his studies: in Cologne with St. Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great, in Paris in the convent of Saint-Jacques. In 1246 he returned to Leuven where he served as a sub-prior and as a reader, then as a general preacher for a large region covering part of Germany, Belgium and France. Bilingual preacher, he travels Flanders from east to west and also France to preach against the Albigensians. He died on May 15, no doubt around 1270-1272. To him we owe various hagiographies of beguines (Béatrice de Nazareth, Christine de St Trond, Marguerite d’Ypres, le supplément à la Vie de Marie d’Oignies …). But his most famous work is The Book of Bees, a treatise on religion and practical morality in the framework of an allegory on bees. There are elements of anthropology, zoology, botany, mineralogy, astronomy, astrology and meteorology.
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. Some biographies have been prepared by other scholars whom I thank for their generous collaboration. In this case, their name is mentioned.
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:
Today only Belgium still retains a significant number of beguinages and since 1998 thirteen of them have been classified by UNESCO as world heritage of humanity . There are also two in the Netherlands, Amsterdam and Breda, and one in France, in Cambrai, and some traces in French Flanders. The rest is only a reconstruction of history and cartography.
What we commonly call “beguinage” was established in Flanders (now the Netherlands and Belgium) from 1240 as the main community form of beguinal life. It can be seen that where the buguinages have become parishes, they have had more guarantees of continuity. This is one of the reasons why, although the first groups of beguines were born in the diocese of Liège, it is mainly in the Flemish territory of Belgium that there are still important traces.
However, we must remember that the places where beguines lived were various: near a monastery or a leper house, in contiguous houses on the same street, in nearby hermitages up to solitary forms of life in a cell or within their own family and even a wandering life, quickly forbidden by the Church.
Here we present the historical beguinages. As the state of research is very incomplete, the reality of the beguinal world, still too hidden, is certainly superior to that presented here. For Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland more information are available underneath. For modern beguines, click on the beguinal movement today.
The most recent works of Pascal Majérus have documented 300 beguinages in Belgium, with different connotations between Flanders and Wallonia
For the most part they have been founded between 1230 and 1280, the XIII century is the golden age of the Beguinal movement. About 30 of them survived the destructions. Of these, only two are in Wallonie (Liège and Enghien), two in the Brussels region (Anderlecht and Brussels) and 26 in the Flemish region as follows:
province of Antwerp (Antwerp, Herentals, Hoogstraten, Ivy, Mechelen (great beguinage and little beguinage) and Turnhout;
province of Limburg: Borgloon, Saint-Trond, Tongeren and Hasselt;
province of East Flanders: Aalst, Dendermonde, Ghent (great beguinage, small beguinage and beguinage of Mont-Saint-Amand-lez-Ghent) and Oudenarde;
province of West Flanders: Bruges, Diksmuide and Kortrijk;
province of Flemish Brabant: Aarschot, Diest, Leuven (Great Beguinage and Little Beguinage), Overijse and Tienen.
Various beguinages, especially in the north, eixsted among which Aire sur la Lys, Arras, Bailleul, Beaune (at the service of the famous hospital founded by Nicolas Rolin), Cambrai, Castelnaudary, Douai, Lille, St. Omer (21 convents with 395 women living there by 1322) and Valenciennes. Laura Swam writes: “ Between 1245 and 1355, fifteen beguinages were established in Douai “ among them Champfleury , with its flourishing hospial, “ that grew to include at list one hundred beguines” (The winsdom of beguines, p.32)
In Paris, the famous “Grand beguinage” was founded in 1260 by Louis IX himself and was closed in 1471. It could accommodate about 400 women, widows or young singles. At that time, Paris also counted dozens of other minor beguinages. Today, in this historic place the Lycée Charlemagne sets up, accessible from the street of the same name. Nearby, the old church of Saint Paul and Saint Louis, already existing at the time of the beguinage. Not far from there, “Place de l’Hôtel de Ville”. In 1310, it was called “Place de Grève” and knew the martyrdom at the stake of Marguerite Porete. Nothing remembers this tragic abuse, if not by chance a café at a corner of the square which is called “Café Marguerite”. .
Going south, there are Belfort and then Narbonne, Digne and Beziers. The only French beguinage preserved today would be that of Saint-Vaast located at Cambrai.
Beginning in the 80s, the historical beguinage presence was rediscovered thanks to extensive studies and a research methodology per spatial sectors promoted by the Federation. This enabled an impressive number of beguinal locations to be identified, as it can be seen in cartography by Frank-Michael Reichstein, presented on the Federation’s website (Kartographische Darstellung aus: Frank-Michael Reichstein: Das Beginenwesen in Deutschland, Berlin 2001). The Brita Lieb Interview published in Neue Wege 7.8.2018 offers an overview of historical research in Germany and other European countries.
Three traditions of “beguinal life” are present in the Italian context: in the North, the Humiliate (especially in Lombardy); at the Center (especially in Umbria) a multiplicity of spiritually committed secular life expressions that are grouped under the term Bizzoche or Pinzocchere. We owe to the scholars Romana Guarnieri and Mario Sensi the production of numerous historical researches on these realities. Finally, in the South, especially since the 16th century, a particular form of beguinal life called “monache di casa” (house nuns who lived in the family or alone) develops. These women insisted to express their choice of voluntary celibacy through “religious” clothes. The “house nuns” will then be distinguished in “bizzoche professed” and “ bizzoche non-professed or devotional ones”. Others, called “monache di conservatorio”, live together in institutions of social aids, under a civil or an ecclesiastical jurisdiction. (See the works of Gabriele Tardio, Adriana Valerio and Giulia Boccadamo)
in Low Countries
37 “hofjes”(courtyards), most of which were destroyed by the Calvinists during the religious conflicts. Only two very beautiful beguinages remain today: Amsterdam and Breda, which have been protected by the Orange-Nassau family.
There are documents that attest both in Sweden and in Denmark to the presence of beguines, who however lived preferably outside the cities and near male monasteries. Also in these countries they organized infirmaries for the poor. Thanks to the works of Laura Swam, we have traces in Denmark: beguines were present in Roskilde from 1260 onwards, in Copenhagen from 1270 and in Ribe (on the North Sea) from 1290.
In Sweden, Ingrid of Skänninge (+1282) was part of a group of beguines who then embraced Dominican spirituality. In 1388, Bishop Nicolaus Hermansson of Linköping agreed that the Beguines of the surroundings of Vadstena continue their lifestyle. However, in 1412 they were condemned by the bishop Johan of Uppsala and in 1506 pushed off from the Bridgettine Order’s monks who wanted to expand on their lands.
According to the medievalist Hans Joachim Schmidt, professor at the University of Freiburg, there were beguinages in the towns of Freiburg (in Romon near Freiburg ” béguines street”), Einsiedeln, Lausanne, Zurich, Berne and Basel, the better known, with 22 houses of beguines in the middle of the XIVth century. It seems that there were even some in the rural places, but historical research is difficult. (Source: “A vue de l’Esprit” programs, RSR, Swiss-French radio, by Bernard Litzler, from 23 to 27 January 2012).
For further informations, here the very interesting paper Beguines in Switzerland presented by Brita Lieb during the Beguinenreise 2018 in Switzerland (transaltion by Gabi Bierkl) and the text of Martina Wehrli-Johns Beguines and Beghards in the Historical Dictionnary of Switzerland.
Beguinages are also metionned in Austria, England, Hungary, Luxembourg and Poland.
Although survival beguinages have similar spatial features, each one of them has a style of its own. In the smallest one in Anderlecht, next to Saints Peter and Guidon’s church, were lodged eight Beguines. In the largest ones, such as the Ten Hove in Leuven or the Saint Elizabeth’s in Gent, hundreds were lodged. The closeness of a river made textile and wool washing easier.
The spatial model of the beguinage is square or in regular echelon or a combination of both; it is circled by a wall and in some cases also by a moat.
At the main entry, a doorkeeper Beguine controls the access. At closing time all the Beguines have to be in and all visitors out. The statue of the patron or patroness of the beguinage is usually placed above the main door; at the centre is the church. All around there are one-storey dwellings with a small garden and devotional decorations to give the entrance a personal flavour. The convent is the communal dwelling of those who have no property, and the house of the Grande Dame is generally prominent.
One can also find an infirmary, the Table of the Holy Spirit and several elements of devotion scattered here and there: small chapels, Pietà, statues, calvaries, to create an atmosphere of concentration and prayer. If the beguinage makes its living out of agriculture, then sheds and other related buildings can also be found.
Today visitors of a historical beguinage feel a sense of interiority, calm and rest, due, among other things, to the construction standards that made them the first places of concerted urban planning. But if even the stones may have a memory, it is also the spirituality of these women that survives through these vestiges.
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With the death of the last Beguine in the world, Marcella Pattijn, on April 14, 2013, in the Sint-Jozef home in Kortrijk (Belgium), the historical epic of the Beguinal movement comes to an end. The movement sprang up in religious fervor which marked the end of the twelfth century and especially the thirteenth and helped to promote that the eminent medievalist historian Raoul Manselli calls “the second evangelization of Europe“.
Still little known or badly known despite its incisive historical heritage, the movement of the beguines seems to regain breath today through some modern experiences of community life that are inspired by it. Sometimes they refer to it by their denomination as for example the Garden of Beguinage in Etterbeek or the Beginenhof in Berlin. At other times, they integrate into the new experiments one or more dimensions which have characterized the very life of historical Beguines.
We will therefore list by geographical zone the emerging initiatives that are inspired by the Beguinal movement in their daily life:
Hello. My name is Silvana Panciera and with the help of my friend Philippe Hensmans I decided to create this web site in order to share the fruits of my many years of research on the beguinal movement. This is a “open free” information, but thank you to quote the source.
My interest in the Beguines began in the exhibition The Closed Garden of the Soul (Brussels, 1994), which dealt with various forms of female spirituality. On a panel of the exhibition I read: “Would the beguinal movement perhaps be the first feminist movement? “. This question was the starting point of a research that has continued since then, which for two years has led me to visit what remains today of all the Belgian beguinages and which has pushed me more and more to want to make known and rehabilitate this feminine history. A form of posthumous justice towards the great protagonists, women fought, repressed, ignored, ignored and sometimes even derided.
Here are the steps.
In 2009, Fidélité Editions published the book Les béguines, which was very successful and was printed again in 2012.
In 2010, the four languages DVD (EN-FR-IT-NL), All om all. Discovering the Beguinal Movement in Europe, which is also found on Youtube.
In 2011 Gabrielli published the Italian version of the book, Le Beghine. Una storia di donne per la libertà, with the preface by Marco Vannini.
In 2013, two other translations appeared in English and German. The first The Beguines is available as an ebook. The German edition Die beginen (Ed.Octopus) is released in paper version in April 2014.
In 2015, in collaboration with the iconographer Martina Bugada, I published Tre Voci per l’amore (Three Voices for Love), where the icons and an anthology of texts were found of three famous Beguines: Mechthild di Magdeburg, Hadewijch and Marguerite Porete.
Since 2014, I have circulated the News Letter Beguines, information about the beguinal movement of yesterday and today.
Since 2016, I’m preparing this website, whose realisation would involved me for a long time. It is an homage to the thousands of women who, from the end of the twelfth century to the end of the twentieth century, have lived an existential adventure that was opposed by many, ignored by too many, and even derided by some. The Beguines would instead have much to teach to us men and women of the twenty first century about deep love and sainthood in freedom.
Toward the end of the twelfth century an utterly new phenomenon occurs: different women intend to exist as such, without being either wives or nuns. They are neighbours or living in the same house or in terraced houses in the same street. Some live as hermits near a church, or with sick people, some live alone or in groups, near a male convent. Others, mainly poor women, choose a wandering apostolic life, praying and begging for “a piece of bread for God’s sake”.
This is how the movement of the Beguines comes to life. In spite of a variety of forms, the movement has the same aim everywhere: living a secluded life in an urban environment, heading for perfection through prayers, sanctified work, help of the poor, community life and mystical research, also with forms of asceticism.
The Beguines’ experience is a creative mixture of both secular and religious ingredients. Among the secular ones: individuality, institutional independence, remunerated work. Among the religious ones: a dedicated life with revocable vows, intense praying, help to the poor, mystical research.
The first group of Beguines historically documented develops around Marie d’Oignies (b. 1177- d. 1213). After nursing with her husband a group of lepers for twelve years, in 1207 Marie retires to live a Beguinal life at Oignies, in Hainaut, a province of today Belgium. A second group forms with the help of Lambert le Bègue. Just before his death in Liège in 1187, the prelate had a group of small houses built around the church of San Christophe, in order to accommodate women intending to live in seclusion. We also know of the existence in Nivelles in 1208 of a group of women devoted to praying and charity.
The considerable increase of their number, the vicissitudes due to an errant life and the clerical pressure for a protected setting of these women lead to the creation of beguinages: groups of small individual houses enclosed by walls, which later acquired the status of a parish. The movement gains its widest expansion in the thirteenth century and develops mainly in the beguinages from the second half of the same century.
Such diversity, and the absence of a centralized administration make it difficult to quantify the number of Beguines. From a letter of Pope John XXII to the bishop of Strasburg, we know that in 1321 only in West Germany live about 200,000 Beguines. In 1372 as many as 1,300 Beguines live in Brussels, that is more than 4% of its 30,000 inhabitants. One estimates that at the moment of its greatest expansion the movement counted about one million Beguines throughout Europe. But there is no documentation for it.
The Beguinal movement does not have a precise origin nor a founder
In the seventeenth century there has been an attempt to indentify her in St. Begga, but this attempt lived shortly, as Begga, sister of the abbess Gertrude de Nivelles died much earlier, precisely in 693. Without a founder, without a precise origin, the Beguinal movement also has no unified rule, as each beguinage has its own one. Last but not least, the Beguinal movement has no formal historiography, which partly explains its limited historical visibility.
These women are called by different names according to the country where they live. In one of his sermons, written between 1229 and 1240, Jacques de Vitry enumerates them so:
In Latin MULIER RELIGIOSA In French PAPELARDE In Lombard HUMILIATA In Tuscan BIZZOCA In German COQUENNUNNE In Flemish BEGIJN
The origin of the Flemish name is uncertain: it may be a philological corruption of the word Albigenses; it may come from the colour beige of their dress; it may come from Old German “beggen, beggan”: to pray; or from Old French “begart”: to pour out prayers; or still, from Celtic, in French “bègue-béguelle”: simpleton, bigot.
The Beguinal movement includes also men, the Beghards. Like the Beguines, the Beghards are not tied by irrevocable vows, nor have a unified rule and the members of a community obey only to their local superior. But unlike Beguines, Beghards do not have private property. The brothers in the same convent share their money, live under the same roof and eat at the same table. They are in general of modest origins, weavers, dyers and so on. For this reason they are closely linked to guilds. We even know that in Brussels – and probably elsewhere – no one could ever be admitted to a Beghard convent unless he was a member of the weavers’ guild. Beghards are often men who have suffered hardship, men who had survived friends or have been deprived of familiar ties due to unlucky events, men who could not live on their own because of delicate health, old age, accidents.
The Beguinal movement emerges in the same period of religious fervour when the Franciscan and Dominican orders are born, as well as a number of movements qualified as heretics [Apostolians, Albigenses, Cathars, Free Spirits, Poor Volunteers] violently repressed by the Church. Also the Beguinal movement is considered suspicious and in the odour of heresy. Thanks to the active intervention of some prelates, in the thirteenth century two Papal bulls [by Gregory IX in 1233 and by Urban IV in 1269] are issued in protection of the Beguines in a few dioceses of what today is Belgium. But the German, French, Italian, and other Beguines found it hard to resist, as the repression was still active elsewhere.
The Inquisition, created in 1231, condemns to the stake also a number of Beguines, among them Lutgarde of Trier in 1231, Aleydis of Cambrai in 1236, and Marguerite Porete in 1310. The Vienne Synod (1311 – 1312) condemns the Beguinal movement as heretic, but the sentences was mitigated by two papal bulls: the first, by John XXII in 1319 in favour of the Beguines of Brabant, the second by Clemente VI in 1343, in favour of the Dutch Beguines.
Persecuted, subject to inquisitional procedures, often deprived of their properties, even forced to close their institutions, only the Beguines of the Low Countries manage to hold on without too many aggressions, even in a general atmosphere of suspicion and strict compliance with the authority. In these are hard times, new buildings such as the beguinage of Hoogstraten built in 1380, are extremely rare. The repression lasted until all the Beguines were transferred in closed and strictly controlled communities. The most obstinate Beghards were locally condemned several times and came to an end with the end of the Middle Ages.
The crisis of the Calvinist Reform in the northern Low Countries causes the disappearance of all beguinages, except those in Amsterdam and Breda. In the southern Low Countries, the movement has a revival, but on it the wind of the Counter-Reformation blows, which calls for a stricter supervision by spiritual directors and a stricter seclusion.
The Austrian government, which after the treaty of Utrecht  obtains the government of these territories, does not encourage the movement. On the contrary, it introduces a set of obstacles such as permissions and taxes, which forces the Beguines to sell their beguinages at low prices.
Lastly, the French occupation in 1795 confiscates their properties and acknowledges their existence only as charitable services. In 1824 the Beguines obtain the right to wear again their dresses, but not to own their properties, and for a while they are also forbidden to enter new professions.
In spite of this, in 1896 in Belgium still live 1,230 Beguines. In 1960, 600 Beguines are living in eleven beguinages but at the end of the twentieth century their number can be counted on the fingers of two hands. The latest beguine in the word, Marcella Pattijn (1920- 2013), died Sunday 14 April 2013 in Kortrijck in the home Sint-Jozef where she have lived after have been living in the Kortrijck Beguinage from 1960 to 2005.
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