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Please, read below the recent News with, between brackets, the date of their sending :
Sylvain Piron & Christina (February 2023)
It is a pity that the book of Sylvain Piron/ Thomas de Cantimpré, with the collaboration of Armelle Le Huërou Christine l’Admirable. Vie, chants et merveilles (Cristina the Astonishing. Life, chants and wonders) (éd. Vues de l’esprit, Brussels, 2021) is translated only in Italian. The Italian edition is available onhttps://ed.bibliotecafrancescana.it/prodotto/vita-di-cristina-lammirabile/?v=78533df0a516 This text is in fact a precious cross-section of the life of this impressive beguine who, between fascination and terror, subjugated the people who met her during her life (approx..1160-1224) to the point of receiving the appellation of Astonishing. For a brief biography of her click on https://beguines.info/?page_id=2132&lang=en There are 17 complete manuscripts in Latin of the Vita Beate Cristine, i.e. the text written by the Dominican Thomas de Cantimpré. Comparing these, the medievalist Sylvain Piron, Director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Paris), tries, as a scholar which he is, to find a line of demarcation between the real experience of the Blessed and the imaginative constructions that decorate every prodigious phenomenon. And there is so much that is prodigious in Cristina’s life: starting with her first return from the dead, to her flying on tree branches, putting herself in burning ovens or staying for days in the frozen water of the river. Sylvain qualifies her as a “professional of the afterlife” and claims the right to promote what he qualifies as a “social science of the practices of the invisible“. Indeed, by what right should the invisible be qualified as unreal? We cannot fail to be in complete harmony with this line of research and we hope that it will lead to many accomplishments.
For people who cannot acquire the book (in French or in Italian) I have prepared a text in English in which I have collected what seemed to me to be the most interesting ideas from Sylvain Piron’s book. You will find this text Christine the Astonishing by Silvain & Silvana by clicking on https://beguines.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Christina-the-Astonishing-by-SylvainSilvana.pdf
It’s time for greetings and gifts (January 2024)
This message reaches you in the first days of 2024 because I wanted to wish every person who reads my newsletter to welcome this new year with the renewed confidence and hope that Christmas brings us: evil will not have the last word. Time for wishes, but also for gifts. In my childhood experience, the gifts were brought by the Befana, a good witch, who, flying on her broom in every part of the world, used to leave a gift and some delicacies in the stocking hanging on the fireplace Now I too would like to give you some beguinal gifts, one for each language, hoping that they will be appreciated. I apologize to the German Beguines for whom I couldn’t find a gift in their language but I hope they will be able to enjoy the English one.
In Italian you will find a brief 26-minute speech of mine on the Identity of the Historical Beguines. It was created via zoom on the occasion of the first meeting held on 10th June 2023 in Mantua in Il giardino delle beghine on the theme “being a Beguine today”. It answered the question: what aspects defined the identity of the historical beguines.
In French you can listen to the very recent 30-minute podcast Béguinages, Solidarités, Pèlerinages, from the programme broadcast on December 17th 2023 on channel 1 of the Swiss radio and television. The journalist Matthieu Wirz met the beguines of the beguinage of St Martin du Lac, in southern Burgundy, and created an inspiring reportage starting with their daily life. In closing there is a short comment of mine.
In English, thanks to Graham who sent it to me, we can listen to the podcast of about an hour that the BBC (radio Four) dedicated to Julian of Norwich, interviewing several people who are scholars of this recluse. Personally, I consider her to be part of the beguinal movement due to er Christocentric mysticism with her maternal and family imprint, marked by an optimism that the century of misfortune in which she lived certainly did not encourage. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001rgs4
I would also like to point out that in Parma, on the initiative of the Teatro Europa, as part of their Western Women’s initiative. Warrior Lovers – looks at female mysticism. Julian of Norwich (3rd-4th February) Mechthild von Magdeburg (9-11th February) and Hildegard von Bingen (23rd-24th February) For information: https://www.europateatri.it/stagione-serale-2/, or firstname.lastname@example.org or 00 39 0521243377
Essen International Conference (December 2023)
We conclude the year 2023 with some wonderful news: the Essen conference (October 2023) organized by the Dachverband-der-beginen (https://www.dachverband-der-beginen.de) was a real success. 56 participants from 7 different nations were present, as we read in the Essen presse in English. Among those present were : Simonetta Pirazzini (Italy) and Graham Keen (Belgium), members of the Beguines Newsletter, who forwarded me texts and information to share with you. Thank you Simonetta and Graham on behalf of myself and those reading this.
The conference was aimed at understanding the historical Beguinal world and had an illustrious guest: Sr. Laura Swan, Benedictine of the St. Placid Convent in Washington. (click here for Laura Swan talk in English). Prioress of the convent, academic and writer, Sr Laura Swan is known to us for her magnificent book The wisdom of the Beguines (2014), an in-depth research on historical beguines now also available in German thanks to the work of three beguines who have translated and published it: Katelene Mauritz from Mönchengladbach, Brita Lieb from Fulda and Cornelia Perthes from the Beguinage of Essen. Thank you so much dear Beguines.
After Sr Laura’s conference it was the turn of Beguine Brita Lieb who presented another important piece ofresearch, that of Tania Stabler Miller (Ignatius Loyola University, Chicago) about the famous Beguinage of Paris, strongly supported by King Louis IX. (click BRITA for the summary of Brita’s speech in English). In the afternoon, two archive scholars Dr Sarah Hoyer (Ulm) and Dr Jörg Voigt (Hanover) presented their local research. Not much has been said about the current developments of the Beguinal movement, but Simonetta confirms that some young women were present at the conference and Graham says he was enthusiastic about the magnificent atmosphere of the meeting. Sr Laura also left very happy to have seen such a lively and active beguinal reality in Germany.
Long live the Dachverband-der-beginen which has already announced a third international conference in Essen in 2024.
Beguinal music and songs (November 2023)
The Beguines sang, played instruments and composed. “Musical chapels” often existed in beguinages. However, very little of this precious heritage is known to us or currently available. There is, however, an amazing exception: these are 2 CDs recorded by the Psallentes group (https://psallentes.com// ). Psallentes is a Gregorian ensemble founded in 2000 by Hendrik Vanden Abeele, who has been its artistic director ever since. The group pays particular attention to Gregorian chant from the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance and consequently arrived at the our beguines. While Psallentes originally only existed in a male version, its female counterpart was created in 2007. It is currently made up of seven women singers.
The 2 DVDs were born from transcriptions of manuscripts found in the Belgian Flemish beguinages of Antwerp, Bruges, Mechelen and Turnohout, as well as in the beguinage of Amsterdam. If you would like to obtain this album composed of 2 DVDs of celestial music, which I have owned for years, you can order it by sending an email to email@example.com The cost is 15 euros, with no extra postage for Belgium but additional postage for the rest of the world. Please also indicate your address in your email to facilitate the next step.
This would indeed be a lovely Christmas present.
Beguinages. The sacred houses of free women (October 2023)
July 2023. The intrepid Devana set off with her husband and the camper for an “expedition” made more daring than ever by the incessant pouring rain when they hit Northern Europe.
Devana set off with the aim of producing a document on the Flemish beguinages, in particular the 12 ones recognized by UNESCO as world heritage sites. The result of her editorial work istruly amazing due to the richness of the contents, the quality of the original music by the composer Carlotta Ferrari and the images of great impact. Devana’s original intuition is contained in the title of the video itself “Beguinages. The sacred houses of free women” available on https://youtu.be/qmoZNJf1Z5I for the Italian version or on https://youtu.be/O6WCQ5x7jcko for the Italian version with English subtitles (text Beghinaggi le sacre case delle libere donne – text Beguinages the sacred houses of the free women-1 with the help of Graham Keen). Starting from Virginia Woolf and the space found in “A Room of One’s Own” up to Wilhelmina of Bohemia , we find in the documentary a lot of memories of women who lived with their heads held high.
Devana, Liliana’s daughter, founded La Scuola delle Donne® in 2017, a free school of female culture and vision ( see https://youtube.com/@lascuoladelledonne ), entirely built on an online network hypothesis, with daily readings of literary works and documentaries by women regularly overshadowed. Two students of the school, Claudia and Valeria, contributed to the documentery with research on the Lombard beguinages. Obviously the Beguines were in the field of interest of the School which had already created several videos on the subject; which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efPlc5fhxLU&list=PLw-5NhwSbsH_CWVj6Qi4EkVF9ietsu9Cc
Dear Devana, Graham and I are proud of you and happy to have accompanied you on this prodigious adventure.
Can God be said to be feminine? (September 2023)
« Dieu peut-il se dire au féminin ? » Can God be said to be feminine? This is a very moving and highly topical question since, thanks to women’s access to theological studies, we finally have women theologians who acutely criticise the patriarchal thought of the great monotheisms. A question that Douceline Duthoit Bertrand, member of our Beguines Newsletter, also asked herself. The beguines Julian of Norwich and Mechthild of Magdeburg were her first guides on the path in searching for traces of the feminine of God in religious history. This research led to the writing of the thesis “Traces du féminin dans l’image de Dieu -Traces of the feminine in the image of God”, presented in July 2023 at the Institut Supérieur de Théologie des Arts (Paris – France). And since Douceline is also a painter, she has looked for traces of this feminine image of God in artistic works: art as a theological place. An example ? Rembrandt’s famous “Return of the Prodigal Son” expresses an idea of the divinity as both father and mother by representing the two hands, one referring to the masculine, the other to the feminine. (listen for more on: https://www.rcf.fr/articles/vie-spirituelle/decouvrir-le-retour-du-fils-prodigue-peint-par-rembrandt by Paul Baudiquey, 2021).
Douceline dedicates her book to her three granddaughters: Mahault, Ninon and Blanche, because she would like one day for them to find it “normal” that we address God as father and mother, to the Spirit ( Ruah, a feminine term in Hebrew) as a place of relationship and to the Trinity as parenthood. An exciting, fully documented and well-balanced book that I hope you will read by clicking on: https://beguines.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Traces-du-feminin-dans-limage-de-Dieu.pdf
Congratulations dear Douceline, and thank you for this invaluable achievement.
You can contact her on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking to connect with other Beguines in England (August 2023)
The missions of the Beguines Newsletter are to connect people who have beguinal projects, publicizing relevant activities in order to get to know the beguines better and to highlight Beguines Newsletter members’ cultural activities that are related to the topic. In this message you will see that the first two aims (connecting people and publicizing activities) are met. See below the message written and sent by Lainey. Please give her appeal your full attention.
Connecting people with beguinal projects
“Hi ! I would like to introduce myself. My name is Lainey Bateman. Following a reasonably successful career in business the call into full-time ministry came some 13 years ago. My calling was running retreats with my husband firstly inCornwall and then on the Isle of Man. The retreats involved a daily rhythm of prayer and worship and during that time we saw may people healed, delivered, set free and destiny re-activated. Sadly, in January of this year my husband decided he no longer wanted to be in ministry, nor married to me During the last six months or so I have been spending a lot of time praying, seeking the Lord as to what is next for me, I know I have much left to give. Consequently, I am looking to connect with any Beguines who are in England. I am currently back in Cornwall and am looking to establishing some sort of community whether it be on line or actual. You cancontact me at <email@example.com>
I look forward to connecting with you. Kind regards
Lainey “ ( https://www.linkedin.com/in/elaine-clarke-41933523/)
On 14th October 2023, at the Hotel Franz in Essen, International Conference for Beguines, organised by www.dachverband-der-beginen.de
For contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Female Corporeality and Religion (July 2023)
From 1st to 3rd June an important conference entitled Female Corporeality and Religion was held in Leuven at the Flemish Catholic University, organized by the Center for Women’s Studies in Theology. All interventions were conducted in English, by women, and some were also online. Defying time zones and linguistic difficulties, I signed up and followed four of these talks. I would like to share with you one in particular, both because it deals with beguines (Marie d’Oignies) or other mystics close to the beguinal world (Christina the Astonishing and Ida of Nivelles), and because thanks to the very kind speaker, I received her text and agreement to communicate it to you. She even prepared an abstract especially for us. Heartfelt thanks to Professor Daniela Blum, from the Technical University of Aachen (RWTH Aachen University) for her very interesting talk Corporal Relationship, Corporal Conformation: Female Forms of Following Christ around 1200.She writes:“In hagiographical sources of the High Middle Ages, the female body is an instrument of salvation. Actually, the beguine Mary of Oignies, the penance Christina Mirabilis and the Cistercian Ida of Nivelles do not engage their own bodies but that of the suffering Christ. In the important field of penance, women cannot hear confessions and pronounce absolution like the priests. But they are able to bring their bodies. Interestingly, in these vites, the female body consistently moves in the sacramental context. Besides the Eucharist, it is the second decisive clerical action of the Middle Ages, penance, that is at stake. The female body moves between the Eucharist and penance so in clerical fields of action, without requesting them – at least on a verbal level. On a performance level one can certainly find in the hagiography requests to a clerically sharpened church after the Gregorian reform.”
Good luck with your research, Professor Blum.
German language in the Beguines Newsletter (June 2023)
We have a new version in German. We welcome the dozens of new German beguines who will read the Beguines newsletter for the first time. Their e-mails have been integrated into our database thanks to the collaboration between Graham Keen and Brita Lieb during the Beginen Reisen 2023 and thanks to the translation that Graham offered to provide us each month. A happy outcome that makes me particularly pleased given that, although the beginnings of the Beguinal movement were born in present-day Belgium, it is certainly Germany that saw the largest numbers. A letter dated 1321 by Pope John XXII to the Bishop of Strasbourg reports the presence of 200,000 beguines in western Germany alone. For cities such as Cologne or Strasbourg, very high numbers are mentioned: in 1243 the chronicler Mathieu of Paris identified the presence of 1000 beguines equal to 6% of the then population in Cologne. In 14th century 85 beguinal convents are mentioned in Strasbourg and 169 in Cologne with about 1170 beguines. It is not surprising then what Paul Marchal notes in his article, De Duitse Begijnenbeweging in de Middelleeuwen, that “the very first written mention of the word “Beghina” dates back to the year 1223 and appears in a historical document, preserved in the Cologne Municipal Archive“. (see image)
A warm welcome to the new readers and thanks to those that made this friendly collaboration possible.
Beguines in Germany today (May 2023)
The Beginen Reisen 2023 has just ended. It is the study trip that every year the Dachverband-der-beginen organizes to deepen the knowledge of the beguinal world. This year the beguinages of Flanders in Belgium were the destination. About thirty “beguines” accompanied by the intrepid Brita Lieb visited the beguinages of Turnhout, Lier, Mechelen, Dendermonde, Kortrijk, Brugge, Sint-Truiden, Zouteleew, Tongeren and Diest. Graham Keen (email@example.com), our best beguinages’ guide in Belgium, also spent several hours with them. Among the objectives of the Dachverband-der-beginen we find the foundation of communities of beguines and the networking of beguinal residential initiatives and projects, currently 18 (see web site) with 340 women living there. Furthermore the beguines actively involved rise to more than 600. Massive numbers!
On 14 October 2023, an international conference will be organized in Essen. Please find all informations about it in the following document: https://beguines.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/International-conference-2023-.pdf We note with pleasure the presence of the Benedictine prioress Laura Swan OSB (Ordo Sancti Benidicti),Washington DC, USA, author of the beautiful essay “The wisdom of the Beguines” (see upper cover image) by then available in German. An opportunity not to be missed.
Beguines, yesterday and today (April 2023)
On this April 14, the tenth anniversary of her death, we honour the memory of the last historical beguine, Marcella Pattijn, who died in Kortrijck (Courtrai) on April 14, 2013. Marcella died while sleeping in the Sint-Jozef Nursing which had received her after she had lived in the beguinage of Kortrijk (Courtrai) from 1960 to 2005. I had the lucky fortune to know her personally when she was still living in the beguinage. She was an almost blind woman, full of humour and musical talent.
Although called with different names according to the different areas of residence, the historical beguines had some common feature, with possible individual exceptions, that allowed them to be identified. I have personally identified six features :
1. Living together with only women or living “together” in a spatially identifiable way;
2. Have a shared Community Rule;
3. Taking care of each other in their own beguinage and towards other beguinal communities in cases of adversity;
4. Dedicating oneself to works of charity (we could enumerate many over the centuries);
5. Sanctify their work, of which they kept the incomes;
6. Have a personal spiritual life and a religious community of intense prayer based on the promises (and not vows) of chastity and obedience and the search for “sanctification in freedom”, as already inscribed in the charter of the beguinage of Bruges of the year 1245.
And the modern beguines? Are there still any? Certainly. How to identify them today? A group of women from the Giardino delle beghine in Mantua expressed the desire to learn more about what it means to be a beguine today. With people interested in this topic there will be periodic online meetings in Italian that will also allow those who live outside Mantua to participate via Zoom. If you are interested in participating, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will see how best to organize your participation.
Happy Easter between the two dates on which the Christian world celebrates it. Sunday 16 will be the Orthodox Easter feast.
Proto-beguinisme in Oignies (March 2023)
Rita Fenendael, beguine member of our Newsletter, has been very active since 2016 in the conception and implementation of a very interesting project: the Center for the Interpretation of Proto-Beguinism in Oignies (CIPO), hamlet of the commune of Aiseau-Presles, in the Belgian Hainaut. The name of the site Oignies immediately recalls that of Marie d’Oignies. Famous in her time, little known today, it is nevertheless thanks to her influence that this project has been conceived. In a wing of the church of Aiseau-Presles where the remains of Marie and those of her “spiritual son” Jacques de Vitry are burried, a space will be set up to highlight the first manifestations of the beguinal movement (proto-beguinism) specific to this region. There will be a permanent exhibition and temporary ones allowing to emphasize particular subjects, and also reproductions of original works of the Treasure of the goldsmith Hugo d’Oignies, currently preserved in the Museum of Ancient Arts of Namur. Guided tours, thematic workshops and conferences will also take place. This project met the interest of the Municipality of Aiseau-Presles, the Bishop of Tournai and various local associations. The restauration work in the church have began in September 2022 and the provisional schedule would have it completed in the spring with a possible inauguration in May 2023. So we are getting there. This initiative is intended to be open to the general public and will therefore ensure the accessibility of the content, and the logistic without architectural barriers. A pilgrimage linking Nivelles, Willambroux, Oignies, Namur is also an idea, which is suported by CIPO, with in addition a whole program of possible networks between the various beguinages and their own museums.
In order to upgrade the old abbey of Oignies, place of installation of the old Priory of which Jacques de Vitry was one of the members for a while, a residential center for seniors will be set up. We wish to this exciting project all the success it deserves.
For any contact: Rita Fenendael <email@example.com>
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