Promenade in Ghent (28-11-2021)
Graham Keen, whom I call the “Bégard” because of his great enthusiasm for the beguinal world, is also, to my knowledge, the best guide for the beguinages in Belgium. He regularly accompanies groups to visit them. In October he was in Ghent with members of Le Silex association. You can read in GAND by Graham the full report in French of this enjoyable “expedition”. In March 2022, Graham has already planned a visit to the beguinages of Lierre and Turnhout. Interested parties can write to him at: email@example.com
Ghent is the city of beguines par excellence, with three imposing beguinages. Indeed the two that were already established in the city in the 14th century accounted for 1000 beguines out of a population of 64,000 inhabitants. Those two, the (not so) ‘small’ beguinage dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Notre-Dame-Aux-Foins) and the large one dedicated to Saint Elizabeth, were both founded in 1234. The third, the great beguinage of Mont-Saint-Amand, was built much later by Duke Englebert d’Arenberg, the new owner, with the beguines accounting for a third of the invested capital. It was inaugurated with great pomp in 1874. A specific feature of the beguinal history in Ghent is the large number of beguines that have survived over the centuries. In 1825 there were still 930 and 773 in 1912. There were more than 130 in 1955, 9 in 1990 and 3 in 1996. Among the honours of the beguinal history of Ghent is its fame, which led King Saint-Louis to visit the great beguinage in November 1255, in anticipation of the one he later founded in Paris. Furthermore, the gold medal was conferred on the beguines of Ghent for their intrepid presence during the cholera epidemic of 1830.
If you want to sample the nice visit of Graham and his group in the two beguinages visited in October, here are two videos worth watching.
Enjoy the visit.
https://www.begijnhofbreda.nl/begijnhof-gent/ (Sainte Élisabeth)
My “beguinal” books (5-11-2021)
The French edition of my new book on the Beguinal movement with the title: Les béguines. Une communauté de femmes libres is coming out in these days. The Almora publishing house, which has spirituality among its editorial focuses, stayed in my mind for publishing Jean-Yves Leloup’s book on Marguerite Porete. Following a first contact I made, to my great joy Almora quickly accepted my proposal and expressed a great deal of courtesy and professionalism in our collaboration. Starting from November 6, the book can be requested in bookstores or purchased online, both as an ebook and as a paper book, on the publisher’s website: https://www.almora.fr/
In this effort carried out in the isolation of the pandemic, I integrated what I have collected over many years of readings from academic studies and texts by experts of the Beguinal movement. It is a popular synthesis of the current knowledge on the beguines and also on the begards. This book also answers to several questions that were asked to me during my presentation meetings, such as if the beguines were the first feminist movement and if they were also considered being witches. In summary, it is a historical well-founded rehabilitation of this fruitful movement that has marked an irruption of freedom in the history of genre and even beyond. This same book already exists as an ebook in English and Spanish and soon also in Italian by Gabrielli Editori.
Thank you very much for spreading this news and supporting these editorial initiatives.
Maister Eckhart & Beguines (29-09-2021)
This new book is only available from few months. It piques our interest as it tries to shed light on the possible points in common, exchanges and reciprocal influences between Maister Eckhart and each one of three most famous beguines: Marguerite, Hadewijch and Mechthild (order chosen in the book). The author is Riwanon Rimlinger. There is no presentation of her on the 4th of cover, but from further research on the web we know that in 2017 she discussed a doctoral thesis in theology at the Université de Lorraine in co-tutelage with the Universität Augsburg entitled “La relecture de Marguerite Porete, de Mechthilde de Magdebourg et de Hadewijch d’Anvers par Maitre Eckhart“. This publication is therefore born from a courageous effort to make the 432 pages of the thesis accessible to a non-academic public, although certainly not without the necessary solid foundations to access it.
This book achieved the goal it had set itself, which was to highlight the common themes between Eckhart and each of the three beguines, their shared cultural roots, their similarities and differences. The subject has been treated with accurate research supported by a large literature little known to me because of the language. Thus it enriched my continuous studies on the Beguinal movement with other information. Specifically, after having presented the beguines, their relations with the Dominican Order and the figure of Master Eckhart, the author explored with historiographic rigor the possible contacts of the Master with the beguinages related to the three beguines and the convergence of their mystical intuitions.
Not being able to summarize here in a few lines 150-pages, I suggest those who know French to read what is a really interesting study book. Despite being demanding, it is comprehensible and not boring.
Congratulations to the new PhD.
Beguinages today in Europe (25-08-2021)
Are there today modern beguinages in Europe? This question is often asked to me. I would try to answer, although very briefly, while suggesting to consult the website www.beguines.info, and in particular the beguinal movement today, for more information. I am also counting on your possible information to complete mine. I point out that historical beguinages which maintain today a residential function are not included in my answer.
To my knowledge, there are three modern experiences in Belgium: the oldest petit béguinage de La Lauzelle (since 1995), le béguinage de Béthel (2011) and another one, Saint Barbe, under construction, which will be fully active in 2024. In Ireland, An Croi (the heart, in Gaelic) was officially born in 2017. Germany is the country in Europe with the most important feminine presence: more than 500 women live in nearly twenty beguinages coordinated by their federation www.dachverband-der-beginen.de, but there are also other independent ones such as the Beginenhof in Berlin. Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge of German does not allow me to provide you with more information about them.
An interesting phenomenon occurs in France, where the beguinages multiply and are distinguished by the initial inspiration of greater or lesser community commitment among the residents and by the more or less profit / non-profit character of the promotor. In both cases, they converge on the target population, i.e. the third Age. The leader of the most committed proposals has been, since 2014, Vivre-en-beguinage which, with its 5 current beguinages, states that there will be dozens of them in the years to come offering to the elderly a framework of life animated by solidarity and autonomy, essential ingredients for a good aging. The other proposal, that has only the name of beguinage, is organised by private companies, such as the Korian group that is active in 7 European countries and already present in the bussiness of care and the elderly, and wants to promote the beguinage option through its Ages & Vie branch. Thirty projects have already been completed between 2008 and 2017, and the summit of the group is planning about 300 by 2024. These “beguinages” are ground floor buildings with 8 individual rooms that give access to both a garden and a space community (dining room?) and which make use of the constant presence of a salaried worker who lodge on site.
In conclusion, the beguines is still inspiring and the third age has become, like health, one of the fields in which business surely grows.
Tongeren beguinage visited by Graham Keen (04-08-2021)
(Thanks to Graham Keen for this great report that you can read in full at https://beguines.info/?page_id=3141&lang=en)
Last week I visited the beguinage in Tongeren. What a delightful surprise.
The beguinage is in a quiet part of town but still within the old town walls. Indeed the area along the river Jeker has been renovated, making a delightful walk with a view of several of the main buildings: the brewery, the Cloth Makers’ Tower, the infirmary and the St Ursula Chapel . But the best part was my visit of the Beghina museum. This interesting collection of objects and a film about several beguinages is housed in a beautiful building, dating back to 1660. The museum stands next to another fine renaissance building. Mr Vandersmissen had this house built for his two twin daughters and it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the town. It survived the fire in 1677 and also the revolutionary French wave of destruction at the end of the 18th century. I read that the beguines were spared by bribing the French authorities but I haven’t yet found out what form the bribe took ! The museum building still has the enclosed garden with a high wall separating the house from the street, this being typical of the more wealthy properties in Flemish beguinages. This charming garden has a statue which one assumes is a beguine.
All the houses in Tongeren beguinage,including the museum, are privately owned as opposed to many other beguinages, where the CPAS / OCMW (city social authority) has remained in charge since the French revolution. Today the beguinage in Tongeren comprises 8 streets. In its heyday at the beginning of 18th century there were nearly 100 buildings housing over 300 beguines. In 1995 the Franciscan monastery (Frères Mineurs) was taken over by Poverello, a social institution founded in the 1970’s by a Flemish doctor. Today they serve 60 meals a day to the needy. I read that the town, who owns the St Catherine’s church (currently closed), has sold it to Poverello for 1 Euro. The town will finance most of the restoration and Poverello will look after it as a place for prayer and cultural activities. Most other buildings are in good condition. For example the St Ursula chapel has been renovated for receptions, exhibitions and other special events. Next door is the former infirmary, today a restaurant simply called “de Infirmerie”. The former slaughterhouse (abattoir) has been converted into a youth hostel. The former Agnetenklooster, just outside the beguinage, was a monastery founded in 15th century, rebuilt in 16th, now converted into a bed and breakfast hostel.
The Flemish often mix the old and the new with taste.
Book of Hours (21-7-2021)
I thank very much Eileen Engel for sending such interesting news on a manuscript dated on the 15th century (1445-1460).
It is a “Book of Hours”, also known as a psalter, a book of prayers for daily life.They often contained the psalms, prayers, liturgical calendars, and lists of saints and feast days. Often written in a vernacular language, most beguines memorized their contents. Illustrations in them were sometimes used as guideposts. Some were lavishly decorated, while others had folk art or few if any, pictures at all. You can see the mentionned book by going to the website: http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15799coll58/id/48884
This special edition stems from a research project managed by Sabina Zonno at the University of Southern California (USC). The precious manuscript once belonged to a Beguine who probably lived in the Beguinage of St. Elisabeth in Ghent, Belgium, and who at the moment of her death, as in use, probably left it to another Beguine. By going to the site, you can browse the 196 pages, with their precious miniatures. A $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities ’Office of Digital Humanities will allow the researchers to take thousands of pictures and working with the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, design a three-dimensional experience allowing viewers to turn pages and truly merge the reader with the book’s surroundings.
Saint Barbe Beguinage (03-05-2021)
Just as the beguinal movement sprang up in the past in the diocese of Liège, so today a new beguinal bud is starting to blossom in that region: the beguinage of Saint Barbe. Stephan Delfanne is an engineer and expert in the renovation of rural properties. He and his wife Marie-Claire are working to achieve a truly fascinating beguinal experience for senior citizens. It combines many elements that they would like to achieve in everyday life and which are inspired by the encyclical “Laudato si”. They are starting with the renovation of a farm which appears in the inventory of Walloon Heritage, located in an area of environmental beauty and archaeological interest, 9 independent and autonomous housing units are being built. The co-ownership which is envisaged will also provide agreement on internal regulations including shared values such as community life in an ecumenical spirit, frugality, respect for the environment and many other aspects that you can discover in the site: https://demeuresetlieux.wixsite.com/beguinage-ste-barbe
Sainte Barbe is protector of the workers of quarries,which are found in the region, and will be the patron of this future beguinage which will also have a chapel. A statue of her has already been recovered from a closed church in Molenbeek. At the end of 2021 the project will begin. The timing will depend on the development of sales, but everything will be fully operational by 2024. Interested parties should note that six units are still available today. Contact friendly Stephan on: firstname.lastname@example.org
I really appreciated his competence and enthusiasm during our zoom meeting on Tuesday 20th April . Thank you and good luck.
Marcella Pattiyn four-handed (14-04-2021)
Marcella Pattijn, who died in Courtrai on 14th April 2013, was the last “historical” beguine in the world. With her ended the beguinal movement born in the diocese of Liège at the end of the 12th century. A movement that has known many variations over the centuries according to the environments of life and the historical transitions. Today it is perhaps manifesting itself in other ways.
I personally met this lovely beguine when she was still living in the beguinage of Courtrai, before moving into a retirement home in the same city. Although she was almost blind, she retained her good humour and her passion for the accordion. There is a book in Flemish dedicated to her: Claude Bouckaert, De Laatste der Begijnen, Uitgeverij Groeninghe, 2000. The beguinage of Breda has on its website a short video commemorating 70 years of her beguinal promises. You can see her still playing the accordion. https://www.begijnhofbreda.nl/laatste-twee-traditionele-begijnen-nederland-en-belgie/
Graham also writes
Marcella Pattyn was still young when she perceived her desire for a consecrated life. She dreamed of joining a religious order of missionaries. But she was almost blind, and still wanted to work. She realized that this would hardly be possible in an ordinary religious community.She encountered several refusals, then with the help of one of her aunts in 1941, at the age of 21, she was able to enter one of the Flemish beguinages, that of Mont-Saint-Amand near Ghent. She later joined, in 1960, the beguinage of Kortrijk (Courtrai).
Like the other beguines, she dedicated her life to prayer and service, in chastity but without taking religious vows. Her near-blindness did not prevent her from working: she knitted baby clothes and worked on the manual loom, with the basket of wool next to her chair, chatting and laughing with the other beguines.
Besides prayer and work, Marcella Pattyn was a musician. She played the piano, organ and accordion. She led this life of a beguine until 2008 when she retired aged 87, and moved to the Sint-Jozef retirement home in Kortrijk, where she died on 14th April 2013.
New English edition (08-02-2021)
During the pandemic I have found time to write a new edition of my work on the world of the beguines. The information in my previous book actually ended in 2009, while my research continued without stopping. These 10 additional years of study and in-depth research helped me to discover many more important aspects to convey and answers to fundamental questions that I had been asked. The new editions in French and Italian will appear during this year 2021 and the one in Spanish is already available. Today Graham and I are happy to announce the publication of the English version. You will find it on the following link: https://www.amazon.com/Beguines-search-sanctity-within-freedom-ebook/dp/B00HWFFINK/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=silvana+panciera&qid=1612793261&s=books&sr=1-3
But who is Graham? you will probably ask yourself. He is, dare I say, the Angel translator of the new edition from French to English. He is most valuable, because he generously agreed to translate this book out of his interest for the beguines and for the sake of their historical rehabilitation. We are really on the same wavelength. He is British and has been living in Brussels for more than 40 years. Since his retirement he has been deeply involved in the world of the beguines, to the point of having visited all the beguinages in Belgium, and taken several groups to visit them, which he plans to continue when circumstances permit. He has contacts with the two modern beguinages in Belgium: the small beguinage of La Lauzelle in Louvain-La-Neuve and the beguinage of Béthel in Brussels.
Graham is spurred on by his ecumenical faith and, like me, met the beguines through cultural connections (a slideshow from a friend in his case, an exhibition in my case), and since then he has continued discovering their spiritual power. and their fascinating history. Thanks Graham.