Who are the Beguines? I didn’t know about these women, collectively called the Beguines, until I began my spiritual direction education 12 years ago.
Just today I had a conversation with a friend and we both shared that our knowledge of strong Christian women from our history is weak. I told her about the Beguines and just knew I had to feature them on this month’s Tending the Holy Thursdays.
Tending the Holy Thursday highlights for several weeks a spiritual practice or a person(s) of faith, so we can explore the topic with more depth. For October, we will learn more about who the Beguines were, then dive deeper into several of the women who wrote and whose names we know.
As usual with each month’s theme, I have an additional FREE download for you. I created something different this month: a fun wordsearch using words describing the Beguines. You can get this freebie by clicking on the button at the end of this post.
Who are the Beguines?
I could probably write a book about all their details but think for simplicity sake I will just bullet key points about their lives:
- The Beguines lived in the mid-twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
- Their housing complexes were called Beguinages and I was blessed to visit one location in Bruges, Belgium.
- Beguinages looked like what we called townhouses, often were surrounded by a wall and most held a large central courtyard.
- In Northern Europe by the middle of the 13th century, there were thousands of women living as Beguines and in housing complexes that included gardens, markets, breweries, churches, hospitals and cemeteries.
- They were mostly women who sought personal spiritual growth while remaining independent from the traditional ways of the religious orders of their time period.
- They dedicated themselves to God, prayer and serving others.
- They did wear “habits” often beige in color and are classified as a semi-monastic lay religious order.
- Beguines did not take vows and were free to leave the community if they willed.
- A few group of men collected together in similar order and were known as the Beghards.
- They established schools, communities, and textile work industries.
- They cared for the sick, the dying and the poor.
- Their spirituality was mystical and full of “love language” quite common for the middle ages.
Brief History of the Beguines
- Some scholars claim the Beguines were the first women’s movement in Christian history.
- Beguines studied theology, wrote meditations and even translated Bible stories into the common language.
- The church originally supported the movement but as their numbers and independence grew so did the suspicion. They were women after all!
- By the middle of the 13th century criticism of the clergy and certain writings of some prominent Beguines added to the growing uneasiness about the movement.
- A few Beguines were even burned at the stake. More on that story next week.
- Since there were neither “religious taking vows,” and subject then to the church powers or fully secular and under the mandates of a husband/family, the authorities cracked down and began dissolving many beguinages.
- Many of the women eventually entered convents.
Next Thursday we will explore the lives of several of the Beguines and from their stories get a glimpse to the spirituality of these fascinating group of women from the middle ages.
Don’t forget to download your free wordsearch about the Beguines by clicking on the button below. I would appreciate you sharing this post with others and inviting more to visit Healthy Spirituality. We are building a great community here. Thank you!
Had you ever heard of the Beguines before? What do you think?