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.
Since 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.
2021 marks an important step in the dissemination of my research. After years of new discoveries and important insights collected from uninterrupted studies, I was able to rework the entire text of my book and offer a new edition, this time also in Spanish.
This was made thanks to the collaboration of Sandra Almeyda. The Spanish edition “Las beguinas. Mujeres por la libertad ”, available in ebook format, will be the first of the four new editions.
The English version will follow, thanks to the admirable voluntary contribution of Graham Keen who translated the text into his mother language. The new English edition is also available in ebook format and replaced the one from 2013.
Revised by Monique Van Lancker, the text will then be published by ALMORA in the new French edition with the title “Les beguine. Une communauté de femmes libres “, which can be purchased as an ebook or printed on the publisher’s website.
Finally, in June 2022 the new edition in Italian is released at Gabrielli Editore, with a preface by Marco Vannini. The book Le beghine.Una storia di donne per la libertà can also be purchased (paper and ebook) on the publisher’s website by clicking on the title.
Since 2014, I have circulated the BeguinesNewsletter , a monthly information about the beguinal movement of yesterday and today.
Since 2016, I have prepared and constantly update this website. 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.
Please, read below the recent News with, between brackets, the date of their sending :
The Béguinage St-Elisabeth in Valenciennes (13th-14th centuries) (February 2023)
On September 30, 2021, Huanan LU presented her doctoral thesis in “History and Civilizations”, as part of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, under the direction of medievalist Sylvain Piron. Walter Simons, author of the excellent study on the beguinal movement “Cities of Ladies” was also a member of the jury. As she granted a four-years scholarship financed by the CSC (China Scolarship Council), we can therefore assume the duration of this imposing work of archives. The title of the thesis is The St. Elisabeth beguinage in Valenciennes (XIII-XIV centuries), that is 426 pages which are available online, by clicking file:///C:/Users/xXx/Downloads/Lu_Huanan_these_2020.pdf. I read it having of course as a catalyst the traces of the presence of Marguerite Porete within this beguinal community, a presence that the thesis fully confirms, although probably it was not a long stay. Only the inquisitorial investigation speaks of her under the name of “Marghoneta”. Would it be a “damnatio memoriae” towards this “heretic” who had shaken the reassuring life of the community? The beguinage of Valenciennes, one of the first in France, dates from the year 1239 and became an independent parish from 1250. Initially the beguinal community was grafted onto the hospital of Saint Elizabeth, then, in 1265, it becomes a well distinct enclosure. The beguinage lives and prospers without disturbances until the ecclesiastical inquiry of August 4,1323. After the Council of Vienne (1311-12) each bishop is effectively in charge of the investigation about the orthodoxy of the beguines within his diocese. Despite the infamy caused by the condemnation of Marguerite Porete, the St. Elizabeth beguinage quickly overcomes the investigation against heresy and continues to attract many single women from all walks of life. It also manages thanks to the many supports of the lords of Hainaut and local powers, religious or secular. By analyzing the documentary archives of this beguinage during the 13th and 14th centuries, this thesis aims to describe the space where the Valencian beguines live, including their material universe, the administrative system of the community, and in particular the social, economic, political and religious frames in which they were located. The beguinage also tries to determine if Marguerite Porete’s affair was accidental and the impact her trial had on the beguinage. Over these two centuries, this beguinage has developed a special system of management sufficient to ensure the maximization of its interests on one side and has formed a network of solidarity composed of lords, monks, bourgeois and family clans on the other side. Such a well-established community with this strong support did not tolerate the troubling members represented by Marguerite Porete and was able to face any challenges that this one would bring.
Few traces of this beguinage remain today because of the French Revolution which demolished the church and the buildings. There are the enclosure and five small houses with the possibility of a guided tour organized by Valenciennes Tourism: https://www.tourismevalenciennes.fr/groupes/votre-devis-en-ligne-0/le-quartier-du-beguinage
Starting with Hadewijch (January 2023)
When someone interested in the beguinal movement asks me from which beguine to start reading the texts, I don’t hesitate to suggest Hadewijch (+1250). More precisely her poems, which we should better call songs since they were mostly set for music. Why do you ask me to start with her? Because Hadewich’s texts speak to us about Love which, despite being mystic, has all the nuances that we too could know. Yearnings, but also abandonments, joy of union, but also pain of the elusive. We recognize ourselves in her and her total sinking into Love also nourishes our empty passages.
This perhaps partly explains the great popularity of her that Veerle Fraeters, a recognized expert on Hadewijch, comments on: “Paradoxically, while Hadewijch, unlike her fellow Beguine authors Mechthild of Magdeburg and Marguerite Porete, seems neither to have profiles herself as a “writer ” during her lifetime nor to have sought or found clerical support for publishing her work, today she enjoys an unequivocal reputation as the greatest writer of the three” (Hadewijch and the Beguine Movement, p.6, thanks to Academia.eu) To my great joy I can suggest the reading of Hadewijch’s songs in the three languages of our Newsletter. For her other works, consult the bibliography at your disposal on the site https://beguines.info
In ITALIAN : the recent book Hadewijch of Antwerp, I canti, translated by Francesca Barresi with the collaboration of Lorenzo Nespoli and preface by Chiara Frugoni, Marietti 2022, 240 pag, offers us the integral text in Italian of the 45 love songs. In Italian there is also the edition translated by Romana Guarnieri: Hadewijch, Poesie, Visioni, Lettere; Marietti, 2000, which contains 5 poems, 5 letters and 5 visions (with the original Brabant text opposite);
in FRENCH: we find the classic text of the monk J.B.Piron, first translator of Hadewijch into French: Hadewijch d’Anvers, Écrits mystiques des Béguines, Ed.Seuil, Paris, 1954, followed by the most recent complete edition Hadewijch d’Anvers, Les chants, by Veerle Fraeters et Franck Willaert with the transcription of the melodies by the musicologist Louis Peter Grijp, edited by Albin Michel 2019. In fact, this book also includes a DVD with 13 songs;
in ENGLISH: in addition to the first very valuable complete work Hadewijch : The Complete Works (Classical of Western Spirituality), translated by the benedictin Mother Columba Hart OSB, with a preface by Paul Mommaers, S.J, 1980, the scholar in mystic Andrew Harvey has recently proposed Love is everything. A year with Hadewijch of Antwerp. In full agreement with him, we recognize Hadewijch as a great heroine of Divine
Wishes from Silvana (December 2022)
This December message will bring you no information, but my wish that the upcoming holidays could be for each one a moment of re-centering on one’s being in the world, on one’s own personal history, on our mission and our commitments. The beguines teach us to live in the world with determination and freedom, but also sheltered from many useless distractions.
The year 2022 has highlighted a notable growth of interest in their history: the newspaper Le Monde has published as many as 6 articles (from 26 to 31 July) on the beguinal movement and several biographies or works of beguines have been published in Belgium, in France, in Italy and even in the USA. We also know about projects that some of you are preparing. We will let you know when the time is right. And still the beguinages increase both in Belgium and in France where, in the latter country, the term beguinage has become a labellum of quality for community life for many elderly people with modest incomes. We invite you to read on the site https://beguines.info/?p=319&lang=en the current developments of the modern beguinal movement in Belgium and France. The image of the beguines is changing in the eyes of the general public: no longer the bigots who spew prayers, but the intrepid innovators who have provided European history with the first example of autonomy from male guardianship and the first form of labor emancipation, as well as a unprecedented way of “sanctification in freedom“. Merry Christmas with the beautiful lights of the Turnhout beguinage and all the best for 2023.
New beguinage of Cornillon-Liège (November 2022)
In the very place where Saint Julienne lived (1193-1258) and where the ancient leper colony entrusted to her care stood, today there is a monastery of Poor Clares, a chapel, a laboratory for making hosts, a pilgrim’s inn and a modern BEGUINAGE. The whole constitutes what is called the Sanctuary of Sainte Julienne de Cornillon (see image above). Given the limits of this message, we will focus only on the beguinage, inviting you for further information to visit the website so full of information and activities: https://www.saintejulienne.org/
Inspired by the values of the Gospel, the beguinage “is aimed at beguines and begards of all ages: couples, families, individuals (layman, priest, monk / nun), young professionals in shared lodgings. It consists of 7 dwellings: 2 houses and 5 apartments. The latter are located in the house of Saint Julienne. It is not a simple neighborhood, but a commitment and adherence to a Charte to enter the project of Christian life that is both autonomous and united, in the spirit of this highly spiritual and social place. It is a question of finding a balance between private and community life “, one reads on the site cited. The Charter, which dates back to July 2021, is well described, as well as the places still available in this space, whose restructuring has been also completed in 2021. For any contact: M. Jacques Galloy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Our best wishes for the full realization of this beautiful project.
Pseudo Hadewijch & Alessia (October 2022)
The historically unidentified beguine, called by the pseudonym Pseudo-Hadewijch or Hadewijch second, is the supposed author of strophic poems 17 to 29 of the Mengeldichten collection and probably grew up in the beguinal cenacle of Hadewijch. Marietti publishing house has recently published, with the title Dimorare in alto, her 13 poems in the original version with the text in Italian opposite. It is the new edition of the translation by Alessia Vallarsa with the collaboration of Joris Reynaert, specialist of the diets language (Middle Dutch), and with the introduction by Luisa Muraro. The beautiful poems are enriched by an equally vibrant introduction by Alessia entitled Satiate by the lack (Saziati della mancanza), a message that appears in the writings of the beguine. The poems of these beguines were translated into French by the Carthusian J.B. Porion and published in 1954. A second edition followed in 1994. The poems of the Pseudo Hadewijch are a true anthology of what is called the “mystic of essence” , whose main exponent is Mister Eckhart, but also, together with him, the not so well known beguines whose writings the Master Eckhart has nourished himself with. Not least Marguerite Porete and sister Katrei.
Alessia’s connection with Pseudo Hadewijch began with her doctoral thesis. It continued with a first popular edition in 2007 and then in 2021 with the above mentioned publication. We also recall that Alessia edited for the volume Cultura letteraria neerlandese (Dutch literary culture)(Hoepli, 2020) a retrospective of the writings of the mystics who first used the vernacular to transcribe their experiences. Her contribution has the title Agli inizi della mistica in lingua volgare (At the Beginning of Mysticism in the Vernacular). Alessia, member of our Beguines Newsletter, continues her study commitment. Congratulations, dear Alessia.
Next gorgeous events (msg september 2022)
The gorgeous events reported below prompted me to send this newsletter in advance to allow you to be able to subscribe in time, should you wish to participate.
On September 17, the official reopening of the small Anderlecht beguinage, now renovated after a demanding restoration. On the website https://bit.ly/3dVhAF7 you will find the opening program with the possibility to register for the various activities scheduled for 17-18 September. On September 24, the best guide of the beguinages of Belgium, Graham Keen, organizes a visit to those of Diest and Saint Trond. (see VISITE 24-09-22). Departure by bus from Brussels. For information and registration: Graham KEEN <email@example.com> From 21 to 29 September, will take place the study trip organized annually in German by https://www.dachverband-der-beginen.de
This year’s theme will be: “Germany: a land of the goddess?” From the primeval mother of 40,000 years ago to the Blaubeuren Beguinage, this second “spiritual journey” to Germany will not only be a matter of past powerhouses that have empowered women, but also the appreciation of the feminine culture that has emerged in recent decades.
For information: spirituel busreise 2022, in which we read that registrations were closed in June. But maybe there will be “last minute” in case of cancellation. On 22 October, an important conference will be organized in Bologna by the association “Nel giardino delle beghine”. It will focus on the figure of Romana Guarnieri, given the occasion of the next centenary of her birth. This conference will also discuss the meaning of “being a beguine today”, since Romana defined herself as such. I announce my participation with a speech entitled: “The Beguinal movement from yesterday to today“. For information and registration: nelgiardinodelle firstname.lastname@example.org
During 2021, I was able to rewrite my book on Beguines, enriching it with information issued from 10 years of studies following the first edition. I was thus able to investigate certain aspects such as the consequences of the Council of Vienne (1311-12) which declared them heretical or answer questions such as whether the beguines had been accused of witchcraft.
Now, to my great satisfaction, the Italian version of this second edition has also been published by Gabrielli Editori, a dynamic publishing house to which I feel very close. The four versions ( EN – ES- FR – IT) are now available to anyone who would learn more about the Beguinal movement. No more excuses … ah … ah … Thanks for helping me to share these information and making them known around you.
Two versions are in ebook format and you will find them by clicking on the title of each: in EnglishThe Beguines. Women in search of sanctity within freedom and in SpanishLas beguinas. Mujeres por la libertad. The two others are available on the their publisher’s website: Les Béguines. Une communauté de femmes libres, Almora, Paris, 2021 and on this web site if you are looking for the Franch ebook ; the two Italian (paper and ebook) are available on Le Beghine. Una storia di donne per la libertà, Gabrielli Editori, 2022.
I apologize to the persons already aware of my commitment for the possible repetition, but believe me, the beguines are still little known and valued even in expert circles, as I was able to see by following the online course of women theology in the last fourth months of 2021.
Thanks to a vision of Julienne de Cornillon
The solemnity of Corpus Domini (or Corpus Christi) occurs on the Thursday of the second week after Pentecost. Like the other Easter feast it is mobile and in this year 2022, it falls on Thursday 16th June. In some countries, however (Italy for example) it is celebrated on the following Sunday. This solemnity, although celebrated today with much less pomp, is one of the main liturgical feast of the Catholic Church, and it is also shared by certain Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches.
The feast of Corpus Domini dates back to the 13th century and must be understood in the climate of the time when the real divine presence in the Eucharist was a subject of contestation and theological conflicts. In 1264, with the Bull Transiturus de hoc mundo, Pope Urban IV extended the celebration of this liturgy to the whole Church. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was thus affirmed by devotion, after several years earlier – in 1215 – it had been decreed by Pope Innocent III, with the dogma of transubstantiation.
We owe this solemnity to Julienne de Cornillon or Mont Cornillon (1193-1258). Although she is known as an Augustinian nun, her past as a beguine should not be ignored. Orphaned at a young age, she and her sister Agnes were in fact entrusted to the house of Cornillon, at the entrance to Liège, an open house next to the Premonstratensian abbey of Mont-Cornillon. Julienne will thus be part of a community of beguines dedicated to the care of lepers in the leper colony of Monte Cornillon. Following a vision and after having asked for support from theologians and ecclesiastics, Julienne after insistent requests convinces the bishop of Liège, Robert de Thourotte, and the Archdeacon of Liège, Jacques Pantaléon, to institute this festivity in the diocese of Liège in 1246. After becoming pope with the name of Urban IV, Jacques Pantaleon will extend it to the whole Church. If you would like to know more about the intrepid Julienne, click https://beguines.info/?page_id=2333&lang=en
Julian of Norwich with us (10-04-2022)
In these terrible, devastating and painful times, I have thought several times about Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1413) and her unshakable optimism, her “All shall be well” that is expressed about twenty times in her Revelations of Divine Love. We might think Julian lived in a time when optimism was easy. But not ! The century in which she lived saw three epidemics of plague, numerous wars and other disasters. Her optimism, while aware of the evil, was nourished by her intimacy with the Divine. Let us listen to her words: “But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of everything I needed, answered me with these words and said:”Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well and every kind of things shall be well”….And because of the tender love that our Lord has for all those who will be saved, he comforts us immediately and with gentleness, wanting with this to tell us : “It is true that sin is the cause of all this suffering , but all shall be good, and every kind of thing shall be good ” (Chap. 27, p.165 … p.166, Il Libro delle Rivelazioni, Ancora, 1997). We would like to adopt this hope as our own.
This is the meaning of my wishes for a Happy Easter to all of you, readers of the Beguines Newsletter.
I have several times asked experts on Julian and medieval mysticism weather Julian could be considered a beguine. The answer has always been negative: Julian was an anchorite walled up in a cell near the church of Saint Julian and not a beguine. Well, I would like to explain why for me Julian should instead be considered a recluse beguine. You will find my explanation at this link: http://beguines.info/?page_id=2339&lang=en
Visiting Belgian beguinages (14-03-2022)
We are extremely lucky to have in Belgium a person passionate about the beguinages and the beguinal world who regularly organizes visits to the beguinages to tell people about this architectural heritage and the spiritual history that they have hosted for eight centuries.
This person is Graham Keen who deserves the title of Begard. In March, he organized an enjoyable visit to the beguinage of Tongeren with a group from “Le Silex” association. From the report that he kindly sent to me, I will quote only a passage which clearly shows the preparation of these visits: “The beguinage dates from the 13th century, like most beguinages in Flanders. In the 18th century there were about a hundred houses (most are still there) which housed more than 300 beguines. One of the most beautiful 17th century houses contains the beguinage museum, Beghina”.
Graham will organize a visit open to the public on April 19th and 23rd in the beguinages of Lierre and Turnhout. You will find all the information and registration details if you wish to join by clicking on Beguinages April 2022 Feel free to sign up. Thank you dear Graham for sharing these places and this history with anyone interested. And despite the delay, best wishes for your recent birthday anniversary.
Beguines of Medieval Paris (21-02-2022)
I am very grateful to Bernard Delcourt, dearest friend and member of the Beguines Newsletter, for sharing with us his commentaries about 2 books. The both concern the Beguines in the Medieval Paris. Bernard lives in New York, in the Holy Cross monastery, an Anglican community of consecrated men. Here his text.
I have recently read two books on the beguines of Paris which I thoroughly enjoyed in very different ways. One is a scholarly monograph and the other is a historical fiction. The monograph is “TheBeguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and SpiritualAuthority” by Tanya Stabler (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) available only in English and the other is “La Nuit des Béguines” (Editions Liana Levi, 2017) also available in Italian.
Tanya Stabler’s monograph is thoroughly researched and documented with extensive notes, index and bibliography. It centers on the Royal Beguinage of Paris founded by King Louis IX of France. But it also covers a population of beguines scattered over a large neighborhood of Paris. It explores several particularities of the Paris beguine population: the economic importance of beguines in the budding silk industry; the relations between beguines and secular clergy studying at the College de Sorbon also founded by Louis IX (the precursor of the Sorbonne University); the relations between beguines and regular clergy (particularly the ascending mendicant orders: Dominicans and Franciscans). Stabler has discovered a lot of interesting material and presents it well.
All this erudition about the Paris Beguines left me hankering for narratives about the lives of individual Beguines. Historiographical research does not enable that to come through. So a few months later, I enjoyed reading what Aline Kiner’s imagination presents as the lives of several remarkable fictional Beguines. La Nuit des Béguines reads as both a bit of a thriller and a psychological drama. Kiner cites Stabler’s monograph in her bibliography and those who have read the monograph can see its imprint on the narrative in many passages.
I’d say these two books make a rewarding pair of explorations in the lives of the Paris Beguines. I hope both books will get translated in more languages of the readers of this newsletter.
Beguinage “La croix aux boeufs” in St Martin du Lac (14-01.2022)
The Beguinage ” La croix aux bœufs”, which you can discover by clicking on http://beguines.info/?page_id=371&lang=en, has just sent me its “Letter of the four seasons“, a pretty expression to say that it is quarterly. This one of winter 2021-22 is indeed the 48th in a consequent story started in 1991 by three pioneers: Sister Thérèse and Fathers Joseph and Maurice. You will find them in the inspiring video: Wisdom on the wayhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi17sWcItGc, which takes up the main stages of an “intuition” felt by Sr Thérèse in the cloister in 1986. After 4 years of maturing, here in 1991, the trio can land in Barjols (Var, France) where on December 8, 1996 they inaugurate “At the school of wisdom“. Their passion for the living Word drives them to create this tool of evangelization. Other places of life will follow one another in ecclesial structures which do not offer them the freedom to embody the original intuition. In 2010 after a stopover in Gentinnes (Belgium) from 2004 to 2009, the group returned to France and found a providential place in the Brionnais region. There, the first intuition can be embodied. Since their lifestyle corresponds as closely as possible to the beguinal life which had already interested them, the name of the project will be Beguinage. In a desire for a mystical life, daily life is invented and organized by respecting the different statuses of every participant and it is based on fraternity, spiritual sharing and … autonomy! They are between 10 and 12. Some are residents and others in alliance because of the geographical distance. Today, following deaths and departures, the community has shrunk its membership, but not the force of the Spirit that guides it. In the winter letter we are struck by the photo of an enchanting sky and the sentence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer probably written from the prison where he was locked up before his execution: “Wonderfully guarded by benevolent forces, we fearlessly await what must happen. God is by our side in the evening and in the morning, and surely will be every new day “.
My wish for 2022 is that these feelings are also ours.
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