What are some beginner teaching mistakes




1211: James of Vitry leaves Paris for Oignies, where he met the pious layman Mary of Oignies (1177–1213) and developed a close spiritual friendship.

1213: Maria von Oignies dies.

1215: The Fourth Lateran Council takes place.

1216 (July): James of Vitry requested and received from Pope Honorius III. The permission for the Mulieres religiosae (religious women) in the Diocese of Liège, in the Kingdom of France and in the German Empire to live together and lead a life of chastity and prayer.

1216 (autumn): James of Vitry completes the The life of Mary of Oignieswhich served as a model for communities of religious women in the region.

1233: Pope Gregory IX. Issued Gloriam virginalemwho extended papal protection to "continental virgins" in Germany and later in the diocese of Cambrai. The Cambrai Hofbeginage was founded shortly afterwards.

1234: Saint Elizabeth's beggar in Ghent is founded. The Louvain Court Beginage was founded in the same year.

1239: The Beguinage of Saint Elizabeth in Valenciennes is founded.

1240: James of Vitry dies.

1260: The Beguinage of Saint Catherine in Paris is founded.

1274: The Second Council of Lyon renews the fourth Lateran Council's ban on the creation of new orders.

1310: Marguerite Porete was tried and executed.

1311: The Council of Vienne, in which ecclesiastical officials condemned the beguine's status, took place. Pope Clement V then issued two anti-Beguinage decrees (Cum de Quibusdam and Ad nostrum)

1314: Pope Clement V dies.

1317: The anti-Beguines Vienne decrees, Cum de Quibusdam and Ad nostrum, were finalized and promulgated by Pope John XXII.

1320: Pope John XXII. Will be issued Cum de Mulieribuswith the aim of clarifying the intended aims of the Viennese decrees

1328: The episcopal investigations into the beguinages of northern France and the Netherlands ended with a complete discharge of these institutions.

1370s - 1390s: Localized, sporadic examinations of beguines in German cities led to the avoidance of the term “beguines” in some regions. Even so, pious lay communities continued to flourish under various names and affiliations.

1405: The Beguines are expelled from the city of Basel.

1545–1563: The Council of Trent takes place.

1566: Pope Pius V issued Circa pastoralisand demand that all religious women of all backgrounds adhere to strict regulations.

1566: The Dutch uprising begins, triggering a wave of iconoclasm that damages or destroys beguinages in the Netherlands.

1585: Spanish Catholic rule was restored in the southern provinces of the Netherlands, resulting in the restoration of the regions' beguinages.

1794: The annexation of the Netherlands by the French Republic led to the confiscation of the beguinages' properties.

1831: The Kingdom of Belgium is established and interest in beguinages as symbols of Belgian heritage is revived.

1998: Thirteen court hearings are placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

2013: The last beguinage, Marcella Pattyn, died at the age of ninety-two.


The Beguines had no identifiable founder or place of origin and never formed a recognized religious order. In the early thirteenth century, in various parts of Northern Europe, particularly the Netherlands, one region, beguinage communities appeared organically and seemingly simultaneously includes parts of what is now northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands (Simons 2001). [Image on the right] One of the earliest appearances of the term "Beguines", which can be found in the sermons of the medieval clergyman James of Vitry (c. 1160 / 1170–1240), shows that the term arose as one of many insults Women who turned away from the worldly path of marriage and devoted themselves to the life of chastity and prayer were thrown at them. Scholars believe the term is derived from the root "beg", which means "mumble," suggesting that the label was originally used to ridicule someone of ostentatious, perhaps even annoying piety (Simons 2014). So a beginner was a woman who displayed a piety that exceeded the expectations of ordinary laypeople. It was an identity that in many ways depended on both public recognition and self-identification.

Medieval clergymen who wanted to describe and promote what they saw as an extraordinary outpouring of spiritual expression among women deliberately avoided the term beguines due to its negative connotations and preferred the clearly favorable descriptor mulieres religiosae (religious women). Over time, medieval observers and even women themselves have understood “beguines” as a label signifying a decision (conveyed through clothing and observable behavior) to lead a life of chastity and service in the world outside of any religious order, whether individually or in groups of like-minded women. In the mid-thirteenth century, with the help or pressure of local secular and ecclesiastical authorities, assemblies of devout lay women began to present their communities as formal institutions, resulting in the establishment of hundreds of beguinages or beguinages, many of which survive today as heritage sites (McDonnell 1954 ; Simons 2001).

There are several reasons women are interested in a self-directed religious life. While scholars have traditionally attributed the beguine's appeal to a lack of space in monasteries or a lack of marriage options, recent science recognizes that these women were animated by the same spiritual currents that inspired men like St. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) ). Her wish was to imitate Jesus and his apostles (the vita apostolica, ie the apostolic life) (Böhringer 2014). The context here is key. In the course of the 1995th and 2019th centuries, increasing socio-economic inequalities became apparent in the growing cities of medieval Europe. At the same time, monastic efforts to reform existing orders and monastic lay people inspired medieval people to demand better religious education, particularly in the form of sermons, and to find ways to put their spiritual aspirations into practice (Grundmann 2001) . Urban poverty and inequality caused medieval men and women to view charity and service as spiritual ideals, which was revealed in the XNUMX. Century led to a "charitable revolution" when hundreds of hospitals and leprosy hospitals were set up throughout medieval Europe to care for the poor and the sick (Davis XNUMX). The earliest documented beguine communities were often associated with or outgrew such institutions (Simons XNUMX).

The beginner option was flexible, dynamic, and responsive to changing personal circumstances, as well as political and social changes (Miller 2014; Deane 2016). In contrast to solemn vows of chastity, beguines took simple vows that enabled women to leave the beguine's life at any time to marry. begin also did not observe any entrapment as her spiritual calling was socially oriented. [Right picture] After all, Beguines did not take vows of poverty, although many viewed poverty as an aspect of their spirituality. Beguine communities did not encourage residents to give up their personal property, which allowed women to use their resources to support themselves and others (De Moor 2014). Control of property also gave women the freedom to leave the community without appreciable loss of personal investment. These aspects of beguinage explain its broad, enduring appeal while at times exposing women to charges of hypocrisy.

The first recognizable community of Mulieres religiosae arose in the early thirteenth century in the Diocese of Liège and centered on a charismatic woman named Maria von Oignies (1177-1213). Mary gained great fame thanks to the clergyman James of Vitry, who on hearing of Mary's sacred reputation reportedly left his studies in Paris to settle in Oignies, where he became a regular canon at the local Augustinian monastery of St. Nicholas. In James, Mary won an influential spiritual supporter who petitioned the papacy on behalf of the Mulieres Religiosae in the region. For his part, James credited Mary for giving him spiritual comfort and inspiration and helping him become a better preacher (Coakley 2006). Not long after Mary's death in 1213, James wrote to Marys Life, dedicated the work to Bishop Fulk of Toulouse (c.1155-1231), who had come to Liège from his diocese after an exile of heretics. The Life portrayed Mary and several other women in the diocese as role models of orthodoxy, sacramental devotion, and obedience to the clergy at a time when heretics and other dissidents were questioning the piety and authority of the church hierarchy (Elliott 2004). . Mary's life recorded in James' popular Life and conceived with a liturgical office, seems to have inspired like-minded women in the Liège dicocese to gather in communities dedicated to work and prayer (Simons 2014).

While James and some of his contemporaries promoted the Mulieres Religiosae as models of piety, the lack of official privilege, protection, and inclusion of women gave cause for concern about their reputations and physical safety. In response, clergy supporters sought special papal privileges to enable women to gather in deliberate communities devoted to work and prayer (McDonnell 1954; Dor 1999). In 1216, James von Vitry reported in a letter to his friends that he had succeeded in getting from Pope Honorius III. To obtain oral approval for the Mulieres Religiosae in the Diocese of Liège as well as in France and the Holy Roman Empire to live together and encourage each other in their spiritual pursuits. The official recognition took place in May 1233, when Pope Gregory IX. The bull exhibited Gloriam virginalemwho offered protection to women, he called virginal continents in Germany (continent virgins). Five days later the Pope extended the same protection to the “virgins” of the Diocese of Cambrai (Simons 2001). Significant Gloriam virginalem emphasized the promise of women to observe chastity, but did not use the term beguines. Furthermore, the bull did not provide a clear definition or recognition of the complexities of so-called beguinage status, which attracted widows as well as the unmarried, and did not just imply an obligation to chastity. Still on the basis of Gloriam viginalemReligious and secular authorities in cities across northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands issued formal permits for local assemblies of pious lay women, which in many cases granted official recognition to pre-existing communities. Significantly, around this time local authorities began to refer to “beguines” in legal documents and other types of documents, indicating that the term had become an acceptable native label for devout lay people. Although it never lost its negative connotations, the term had become routine in official documentation about such communities by the middle of the 2014th century (Simons XNUMX).

Beguines and other penitential groups were scrutinized at the Second Council of Lyon (1274) when ecclesiastical officials, addressing a number of issues, renewed the Fourth Lateran Council's ban (1215) to create new orders (More 2018). Of course, the Beguines had never claimed Order status, a point that local officials believed exempted their communities from this legislation. In a report to Pope Gregory IX. In preparation for the Second Council of Lyon, however, the Franciscan monk and theologian Gilbert von Tournai (1200–1284) complained specifically about Beguines, noting that these women were avoiding important canonical distinctions between “religious and lay”, “As they neither when nuns still lived as wives. In addition, Gilbert expressed concern about the self-directed spiritual practices of the Beguines, claiming that the women possessed incorrect translations of the scriptures that he claimed they read together. While Beguine's supporters praised the women's reputation for mutual prayer and admonition, other medieval clergy clearly expressed concern that such activities could lead to heresy and doctrinal errors (Miller 2007).

Despite Gilbert's criticism, beguinage monasteries and beguinages were not forced to disband after the Second Council of Lyon, even if the council ordered other unofficial penance groups to disband. Nevertheless, the beguinage option remained controversial. As a conscious choice to live in the world, but in a way that (effectively) surpassed or stood out from most lay people (at least in piety), Beguines attracted disapproval as well as admiration. Some professing religious were offended by the co-opting of “religious” status without any obligation to rule, while some lay members opposed Beguine's refusal of marriage and exemption from certain taxes. Since Beguines were allowed to keep their personal property or marry the beguinage, some observers questioned the sincerity of their calling and suggested that women enter the beguinage to avoid marital and family responsibilities or to cover up illegal sexual behavior. In addition, since beguines had developed a reputation as "religious women," they were often accused of spiritual pride and hypocrisy. Critics of the Beguines such as Wilhelm von St. Amour (1200–1272) and Gilbert von Tournai often warned that these women could mislead the lay people with whom they had regular contact (Miller 2014).

In 1311 church officials met in a church council in Vienne to discuss issues of heresy and the Beguines and finally to issue two decrees. “The first decree known as Cum de QuibusdamMulieribus Specifically targeting beguinage status (with respect to certain women) claimed that beguines argued and preached about the Trinity and Divine Essence, and misled others with their heterodox opinions about the articles of faith and the sacraments. Because of these alleged activities, the decree declared that the status of Beguines "should be permanently prohibited and completely abolished". The second decree, Ad nostrum, listed eight "mistakes" allegedly represented by Beguines and their male colleagues, the Beghards, who, according to the decree, constituted a "hideous sect". Specifically, Ad nostrum claimed that the Beguines were not only attached to beggars (a dubious claim) but were part of an organized heretical group that believed that the human soul could be perfected to the point of no longer needing a moral law. To like Cum de Quibusdam,Ad nostrum condemned the Beguine's status, but was directed specifically against women and men in German countries (Makowski 2005).

The death of Pope Clement V in 1314 (pp. 1305-1314) delayed the dissemination of the Viennese decrees, which were passed in 1317 by Clemens successor, Pope Johannes XXII. (Pp. 1316–1334), concluded and enacted. The Vienne decrees immediately created confusion and controversy among secular and ecclesiastical authorities as it was not clear how they related to women in their jurisdictions (Makowski 2005; Van Engen 2008; Miller 2014). The most controversial of the two decrees was Cum de Quibusdamread as a blanket condemnation of beguine's status before ending with a strange so-called "escape clause" that allowed "faithful women" to live "honestly in their homes" without specifying which women should be considered "faithful" or how to distinguish these women from the intended aims of the decree.

Some canon lawyers argued this Cum de Quibusdam applied to the residents of beguinage monasteries or beguinages and the “escape clause” to women who lived chaste lives privately in their own homes (Makowski 2005). This interpretation effectively contradicted previous efforts to begin residing in a Beguinage or to beguile the differentiating factor between true Beguines and the insincere women who claimed Beguine's status without submitting to a recognized community. To make matters even more complicated, medieval European cities hosted a multitude of charitable and penitent lay communities, some of which were “beguiling” in their commitment to prayer and active service in the world (Böhringer 2014). Franciscan tertiaries, for example, were devout lay people who belonged to the Franciscan order. Although the tertiary, like the beguines, did not take solemn monastic vows, they followed a papal recognized rule, that of the Third Order of St. Francis, i.e. the tertiary. However, due to similarities in their way of life and clothing (both groups wore simple habits), tertiaries were often brought into conflict or confused with beguines. Indeed, many Beguines who believed they could evade conviction by following a rule approved by the Pope responded to the convictions of Vienne by becoming tertiary (Simons 2001).

In August 1318 Pope John XXII. The bull out Ratio rectawho sought to provide some guidelines for ecclesiastical authorities charged with the task of distinguishing the “bad” beguines mentioned in the Vienne decrees from those in the exempted “good” beguines Cum de Quibusdam so-called escape clause. Yet, Ratio recta, to like Cum de Quibusdamleft plenty of room for negative and contradicting interpretations. In particular, the decree urged local authorities not to harass “honest” Beguines; However, the Pope insisted that this directive in no way indicated that he approved the beguinage, nor did it attempt to contradict previous decisions condemning beguinage status. So John XXII. The papacy's tradition of making non-binding declarations only to emphasize the beguine's lack of official consent and to leave the door open to continued harassment of lay religious women, whatever they were called, continued (Makowski 2005; Van Engen 2008).

In the years following the publication of the Vienne decrees, bishops with a large number of beguines were reluctant to enforce this legislation because of uncertainty as to whether the decrees would apply to “their” beguines or not. In the meantime, local authorities in various cities invoked the decrees to confiscate the Beguine's property or to pressure women to adopt the Third Rule of St. Francis. Finally, Pope John XXII tried. In December 1320 to give further explanations about the Beguine's status Cum de Mulieribus to bishops in Tournai, Cambrai and Paris. Recognizing that "honest" Beguines could live together in Beguines or Beguine Monasteries, Cum de Mulieribus attempted to resolve the impasse between bishops and secular authorities by instructing the bishops to examine the beguinages in their respective dioceses, either themselves or through their representatives, to ensure that the women were not engaging in illegal disputations or discussions of doctrines (Van Engen 2008).

The interpretation and enforcement of the Vienne decrees was ultimately based on the local attitude (of bishops, secular authorities and clergy, both secular and religious) towards brothers, Beguines and Tertiaries. The episcopal investigations lasted until around 1328 and ultimately led to the relief of the women who lived in beguinage monasteries and beguinages in the Netherlands and northern France. The beguinages of the southern Netherlands had long been part of the social and urban fabric, and local authorities largely supported their survival (Simons 2001). During the fourteenth and well into the fifteenth centuries, trials in cities such as Brussels, Ghent, Mechelen and Liège continued to host hundreds of women who were still blatantly known as “beguines”. Indeed, most European beguinage communities have been able to adapt to local pressures and circumstances and survive into the early modern period.

In some areas, however, the investigation limited opportunities for devout laypeople as local officials used the crisis to regulate beguinage communities, making them look more like traditional monastery houses and banning women outside of a beguinage or beguinage about life as beguines. Many beguinages revised their house rules in a way that restricted the beguine's freedom of movement and strengthened clerical oversight. The Great Beguinage of Paris amended its statutes, thereby strengthening the oversight function of the local Dominican (Miller 2014). The Great Beguinages of Brussels and Mechelen urged residents to take vows of enclosure (More 2018).

Elsewhere, local officials seized ambiguity in the Vienne decrees to advance or undermine specific factions or causes. In some German cities, the Beguine's status served as a suitable focal point in heated debates about reforms, poverty and the permissibility of lay begging (Deane 2014). While many Beguines responded to the Vienne Decrees by calling themselves tertiary and cementing their affiliation with local Franciscan monks, political forces sometimes obliterated the relative advantages of one label over another. In the late 1405th century, opponents of the Franciscans attacked Beguines in Basel to attack the local tertiary and induced the city's brothers to intervene on behalf of the tertiary. The defense of the brothers emphasized that the tertiary follow a papal recognized rule and therefore differed greatly from the non-affiliated beguian communities. As a result of these efforts, the remaining Basin beguinage communities were defenseless and vulnerable, as the friars' defense relied on identifying these groups as legitimate targets of the Vienna decrees. By 2003 the Beguines had been expelled from Basel for good (Bailey XNUMX).

During the fourteenth and into the fifteenth centuries, inquisitors targeted beguines in German cities at times, accusing pious laypeople of advocating antinomic beliefs, beliefs prescribed by the Vienne Decree Ad nostrum Attributed to all beguines and beghards without evidence (McDonnell 1954; Lerner 1972; Kieckhefer 1979). These incidents stemmed from local tensions, particularly conflicts between male clerical factions, often centered on the pastoral relationships of men with religious lay women. In some areas, women dropped the name and called themselves spiritual sisters or hermits while they lived as they had before (Deane 2014).

Beguine communities were re-scrutinized in the 2018th century when clerical and secular authorities, marked by the observant movement's emphasis on reform and renewal, again attempted to give monastic status to all religious women regardless of their affiliation or canonical status To impose discipline (More 1461). The Observant movement was a broad reform movement that was driven and shaped by a number of groups and institutions. These demands for religious renewal played out differently across Europe, depending on the local political context. As in the fourteenth century, some beguine communities adopted Augustinian or Franciscan tertiary rules while continuing to live and work as before. In Paris, however, the royal beguinage experienced famine, war and the political upheavals of the 1483th and 1471th centuries, only to disintegrate under the pressure of the Observant movement. Citing the fact that only two people remained in the royal beguinage, the French King Louis XI decided. (Reg. 1485–2014) to transfer the building XNUMX to a group of Franciscan Tertiaries. However, until XNUMX, the complex housed a community of Observant Poor Clares (Miller XNUMX).

After the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the Catholic Church again focused on issues of discipline in women's religious communities, especially inclusion. As in the past, beguine communities resisted inclusion by invoking their non-canonical status. Nevertheless, Pope Pius V (pp. 1566–1566) issued the bull in 1572 Circa pastoraliswho insisted that all religious women's communities, without exception, adhere to strict inclusion (More 2018). However, the social roles devout women played in cities across Europe, particularly in teaching, hospital work, and community service to the poor, continued to have tremendous value. Women who were called to this work could therefore no longer identify themselves as “religious”, since, according to Trento, such a status required strict inclusion and thus the task of active service in the world. Women emphasized their lay status and formed pious lay communities like the Ursulines and the Dévots (Rapley 1990). While these devout lay people dropped the name "Beguines," they continued to live a life of prayer and service in the world just as they had before Trent.

Beguines and beguinages remained a feature of urban life in the Netherlands into the early modern period, even when the Protestant Reformation and the Dutch Uprising of the 2010th century destroyed many of the area's court beguines (Moran 1585). In the year XNUMX, with the restoration of Spanish Catholic rule in the southern provinces (the north remained independent and Protestant), some beguinage communities were restored, but under closer conditions ecclesiastical control. As in the thirteenth century, local clergymen sponsored beguines as role models for laypeople and auxiliaries in the Church's Counter-Reformation efforts during the Counter-Reformation. The bishops also stepped up their visitation efforts, emphasizing stricter discipline, inclusion, and the adoption of stricter rules. The desire to make Beguines appear as an order-like group, if not in canon reality, also led to the creation of a fictional story with an invented founder of the Beguines: St. Begga (Moran 2010; More 2018). [Right picture] Begga was born in the early seventh century and was the daughter of Pepin the Elder. After the death of her husband, Begga founded a monastery in Andenne, where she died as abbess in 691. Begga's name and sacred status made her an irresistible fictional founder for an equally fictional “Beguinage” ”in the sixteenth century (More 2018). The creation of a founder and an "order of the beguines" promoted the myth that beguinage communities in different places (communities with very different histories) shared a common institutional identity.

The trials of the southern Netherlands saw another sharp decline with the annexation of the region by the French Republic in 1794. At that time, the buildings were secularized and taken over by the state. With the establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium in 1830, nationalist pride rekindled interest in beguines and their history. Seventeen beguinages survived into the XNUMX. Century, including Saint Catherine in Breda, Saint Catherine in Mechelen and Saint Elizabeth of Ghent. In 1998, thirteen court hearings were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 2013 the last Beguine, Marcella Pattyn, [pictured right] died at the age of ninety-two.


Although beguines were sometimes accused of heretical beliefs and doctrinal errors, they followed Roman Catholic traditions and were particularly known for their sacramental piety (Elliott 2004). Beguines took personal, informal vows of chastity and lived a life of contemplative prayer and active service in the world. Although women were not allowed to preach, they took it upon themselves to pursue their spiritual callings in other ways, such as caring for the poor and sick, spiritual encouragement or admonition to their neighbors, and manual labor. With their clothing and behavior, Beguines made a public claim to lead a separate life among their fellow Christians (in the sense of a pronounced, even superior religious life) (Van Engen 2008).

Clergy-written descriptions of Beguine's spirituality emphasize their orthodoxy, sacramental piety (especially devotion to confession, penance, and community), and commitment to chastity and service. Clerics often presented the public services of beguines in religious terms, emphasizing prayer, physical suffering, and obedience to the church hierarchy in their descriptions and defenses of these women (Caciola 2003; Elliott 2004). However, the critics of the beguines, especially in the 1954th century, claimed that beguines held anti-sakerdotal and antinomic views (McDonnell 1972; Lerner XNUMX). In particular the Vienne decree Ad nostrum claimed that Beguines, along with their male counterparts, beghards believed that the soul could reach a state of perfection that would obviate any need for the sacraments and moral laws of the church. There is no evidence, however, that these ideas or beliefs were typical of Beguines, who were often used as farmers and scapegoats in local political and religious controversies due to their unofficial status (Lerner 1972; Deane 2014; Miller 2014).


The beguines in the beguines and monasteries of medieval Europe were known for combining active service with contemplative prayer. Although the statutes of the Beguinage monasteries and houses, particularly in the later centuries of beguinage history, emphasized the monastic routines, the vocation of the Beguines was to serve actively in the world on behalf of others. Some beguinages asked their residents to attend mass every day and to adhere to a monastic routine of prayers and vigils (Simons 2001; Moran 2010; Miller 2014). In some congregations, the Beguines conducted readings from the Psalms or other texts appropriate for certain feast days. Choirs of beguines, sometimes educated and trained in music in the beguinage school, sang chant texts (antiphons and answers) peculiar to the divine ministry. Members of the beguinage choir were also known to hold vigils for patrons or deceased beguines. Beguines taught school children, cared for the sick, buried the dead, and admonished their fellow Christians to go to mass and receive the sacraments. Indeed, spiritual and material service to others was a defining feature of beguinage, which in part explains its continued popularity in medieval cities (Simons 2001; Miller 2014; Deane 2016).


Beguine communities emerged relatively simultaneously in different forms (small households, monasteries or beguines) (Simons 2001). Although beguines had similar prayer and service lives in different regions, there were no beguines assignment and no beguinage or beguinage claimed leadership or even membership of other beguinage communities. In need of pastoral care, beguines developed connections with local pastors, brothers, and monks, but few congregations developed exclusive relationships with any particular order.

Even so, beguinage communities went through a process of institutionalization over time and developed characteristics that resembled official monastery houses. Local authorities across Northern Europe recognized the spiritual and social benefits of the informal gatherings of devout lay people that appeared in their cities, and often provided material assistance and legal privileges that enabled them to form permanent institutions.These facilities ranged from small apartment buildings attached to hospitals to small houses of a dozen or more women (often referred to as beguinage monasteries) to larger, walled complexes known as beguinages (or begijnhoven). Architecturally, the beguinage was a material manifestation of the complexity of beguinage that attracted women with different socio-economic backgrounds and motivations and acted as havens for them spiritually inspired, refuge for unmarried people and old age communities for the elderly (Ziegler 1987; Simons 2001; Moran 2010; Miller 2014). The courtyard's beguinages [picture right] were usually centered around a courtyard and included individual residences for wealthier beguines and communal dormitories for women of more modest means. Beginage walls and chapels eliminated the need for beguines to mingle with the broader lay people and allayed concerns for the safety and reputation of women. Even so, beguinages were usually located near city gates or main thoroughfares, reflecting the socially oriented service of the beguines. In some regions, the local beguinage formed a city within a city and housed hundreds of women. Some even secured independent parish rights (ie privileges) because of a parish. As recognizable religious women, Beguines needed reliable pastoral care, and local religious and secular authorities helped pave the way by negotiating agreements with clergy and mediating conflicts (particularly between brothers and secular clergy) over parish rights (Miller 2014). Beguinages usually had their own priests and chaplains to hold masses, hear confessions, and preach sermons. Beguinages thus seemed to satisfy the “religious” and contemplative aspect of beguinage. Indeed, admission criteria, rules, and walls regulated and cloistered what was originally a spontaneous gathering of devout lay people. Even so, beguines weren't nuns. In contrast to monasteries, beguinage communities gave their residents the freedom of movement they needed to provide valuable social services, including caring for the sick, the dying, and the dead. As a result, the beguinages were necessarily quite porous and attracted laypeople and supporters as well as clergy. Residents were also pulled out of the enclosure to cultivate spiritual friendships with spiritual advisors, negotiate property ownership with family members and business associates, and fulfill spiritual and social obligations. Beguines, like their inhabitants, were visibly different and thoroughly embedded in the urban landscape (Simons 2001; Miller 2014).

Beguinage monasteries and beguinages effectively established beguines as a recognizable (if unofficial) religious community. Indeed, the existence of beguinages in northern European cities made local understanding of what it meant for a woman to identify (or be referred to) as a beguines (Miller 2007). Beguinages with their rules, walls and carefully controlled admission criteria blurred the distinction between beguines and nuns (More 2018). In the mid-1954th century, local authorities in many cities began to consider the beguinage or beguinage as the only acceptable contexts for devout lay people, arguing that those not associated with such houses should not be considered beguines at all but rather as insincere or insufficiently devout women who used the beguinage as a cover for immoral behavior (McDonnell XNUMX).

Individual beguinage monasteries and beguinages were usually run by a magistra (mistress) who had far-reaching powers within the community. The Magistra usually tracked the finances of the community, guided admission decisions, advised the religious and secular directors of the beguinage on the rules for residents, and provided religious instruction to women (Simons 2001; Moran 2010 and 2018; Miller 2014). In the Netherlands, the prior of the local Dominican Order was often appointed to act as spiritual director of the beguinage. In Bruges, for example, the prior of the Dominican Order helped the lady of the beguinage to appoint the chaplain. In Ghent, the Dominican appointed the mistress of the beguinage and the chaplains who served the community. In Lille, pastors appointed the chaplains to serve the beguinage. At various points in the history of the beguines, especially during times of reform or religious conflict, local authorities tried to improve religious and / or secular control over the beguinage communities (McDonnell 1954; Simons 2001; Galloway 1998; Miller 2014).


Much of what we know about Beguines was written not by the women themselves, but by clerical observers, some of whom expressed hostility to lay religiosity, especially among women. Therefore, scientists must rely on male-authored, sometimes hostile and misogynist, sources. One of the greatest challenges for both medieval observers and modern scholars is the slipperiness of the term “beguines”, which can denote a range of behaviors as well as membership of a recognized beguining community (Miller 2007; Deane 2008).

According to some medieval thinkers, especially clergy, Beguines defied gender expectations of female spirituality by adopting an "active" religious life that was by nature performed in public. Since they were not recognized as an Order, Beguines had no official status and therefore served as easy targets for clergymen who promoted the spread of religious lifestyles in the XNUMX. Century criticized. Defenders of the beguinage tried to mitigate criticism by obscuring the "irregular" aspects of status, constructing fictional stories, and building convent-like houses for the women (like beguines). Still, the beguiling identity remained accessible to any woman who chose to adopt it, leading to allegations of insincerity and hypocrisy. In addition, some religious observers believed that Beguines, as unrelated religious women, were particularly inclined to adopt and spread heterodox ideas.

Concerns about “irregular” beguines seemed to be confirmed by the life and work of Marguerite Porete (d. 1310). [Image on the right] Sometime in the early to mid-1290s, Marguerite (a woman from the Diocese of Cambrai) wrote a mystical book called The mirror of the simple souls. The book, written in the old French vernacular, describes the destruction of the soul, in particular its descent into a state of nothingness or the union with God without distinction. Clearly popular in its day, The mirror provoked controversy in the early fourteenth century for several reasons. First, the book was written in French rather than Latin, the preferred language of study, and was therefore accessible to laypeople with increasing literacy. Second, the book contained statements such as “a soul annihilated in the love of the Creator could and should grant nature whatever it desires,” which some understood to mean that a soul can become one with God and that when it is in it, giving They claim that the church, her sacraments, or her code of virtues were not needed. While this was probably not the interpretation Marguerite intended by this statement, local church authorities feared that the book's teachings could too easily be misinterpreted, especially by the unskilled and theologically uncomplicated (Feld 2012).

Based on the book itself, it's clear that Marguerite was trained and had access to resources like parchment, writing implements, and maybe even a scribe. She also had important spiritual supporters, including three men who wrote cautious notes from The mirror. Nevertheless, the Bishop of Cambrai, Guido von Collemezzo (r. 1296-1306), who apparently had little patience with theologically daring laypeople, declared Marguerite's book to be heretical and ordered it to be publicly burned in Valenciennes, which suggests the city was in who lived Marguerite at the time. According to the record of her trial, Bishop Marguerite said that she would be turned over to secular authorities in case she tried to spread her ideas orally or in writing. Apparently undeterred, Marguerite continued to distribute her book and drew the attention of another bishop who sent her to Paris at the end of 1308 to answer the Dominican Inquisitor of France, William of Paris (d. 1314). In Paris, Marguerite remained under house arrest for eighteen months and refused to cooperate with the Inquisitor. Eventually, William moved on with the case, putting Marguerite's book on trial and bringing together almost the entire theological faculty to assess the book's orthodoxy. When the university masters unanimously declared the book heretical, they cleared the way for William to sentence Marguerite to death. On May 31, William declared Marguerite a "recidivist heretic" and handed her over to the secular authorities to carry out her sentence. The very next day, June 1, 1310, Marguerite Porete was burned at the stake on Place de Grève in Paris (Field 2012; Van Engen 2013).

Another challenge is how beguines have been portrayed in the literature. Until recently, both scholarly and popular stories have tended to portray Beguines as vulnerable, relentlessly persecuted victims of an oppressive, patriarchal church, or as subversive proto-feminists who refused to conform to social expectations. In both cases, the emphasis is on their marginality. This historiographical tendency to view religious women as victims or rebels stems from an over-reliance on sources such as the decrees of the councils of churches. Indeed, beguines among the Middle Ages play a prominent role in the history of heresy and religious deviation, in areas that necessarily privilege judgmental ecclesiastical decrees and inquisitorial records (Deane 2008 and 2013). In addition, the image of beguines as a marginal figure agrees well with modern assumptions about medieval women. That is, the prevailing assumption is that women were either wives or nuns. Beguines must therefore have been women who did not marry or entered a monastery (i.e. victims) or who both subversively rejected (rebels). Furthermore, Roman Catholic Church stories often associate the increased visibility and participation of women in the Church with the failure, crisis, or "decline" of men, throwing beguines as part of an uncontrollable and undesirable wave of religious enthusiasm (ultimately and inevitably) and directed towards more socially acceptable channels (Grundmann 1995; Deane 2008).

At the local level, however, Beguines found widespread support from clergy, city authorities and the general public. Beguines were important, valued members of their communities. Though often embroiled in debates about religious poverty, inclusion, and spiritual authority, the beguine communities adapted to changing expectations of female spirituality, frequently changing their names, changing house rules, or looking for politically strong affiliations or patrons to continue To lead lives of prayer and service. As a result, it can be difficult for scientists to write about these communities as the term “beguines” goes in and out of the documentation record (Böhringer 2014).

The history of the Beguines shows that, longer than historians have assumed, women have found creative ways to come together in deliberate communities [picture right] and, despite patriarchal pressures, lead a life of service and engagement in the world. The beginner's option was practical, flexible, and dynamic, and reflected the socio-spiritual priorities of medieval people. While these communities met with sporadic criticism and even persecution, they were deeply embedded in medieval society as powerhouses of prayer, hubs in distant spiritual networks, and essential service providers. Devout lay people have been able to navigate cycles of criticism and political change because of their deep connection with their families, local clergy and authorities. The history of these communities can be restored by examining these local contexts and providing valuable new insights into the experiences of women “on the ground” that deeply enrich and often question the broader master narrative of medieval church history. The history of the Beguines also shows how diverse women's communities as symbols and groupings of living women were at the center of male competitions for political power.


Image 1: Jeanne Brichard, lover of the Beguinage of Paris (d. 1312). Fine arts sheet, v. 84.
Image 2: Beguine from Des dodes dantz, printed in Lübeck in 1489.
Image 3: Beguine on the way to the church, Johann Friedrich Schannat, Beguine d'Anvers, Sur l'origine and the Progrès de Son Institute. Paris, Girard, 1731.
Image 4: St. Begga, Joseph Geldolph Ryckel, Vita S. Beggae ducissae Brabantiae (Leuven, 1631).
Image 5: Marcella Pattyn, the last Beguine, d. 2013.
Image 6: Béguinage of St. Elisabeth, Kortrijk.
Image 7: Marguerite Porete, d. 1310.
Image 8: Beguines working in the Beguinage in Ghent, Belgium, c. 1910.


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Release date:
4 September 2020