October 10, 2011

The Beguinage in Bruges

Very often visitors from abroad are fascinated by the phenomenon of "Beguinage/Begijnhof" and wonder whether its inhabitants were religious persons, spinsters, divorcees, or just poor and abandoned women who had nowhere else to live.
The first thing the visitor feels upon entering Bruges' beguinage is quietness, tranquility, peace, calmness. There are, still today, signs everywhere calling for  "Silence/Stilte".  "Ten Wijngaerde"  is a beautiful landmark, well kept and a major tourist attraction.  It lies just behind the Minnewater and consists of a group of houses around a garden surrounded by large poplar trees.
In the last picture a beguine watches over the customers and tourists in a conspicuously attentive way.

The beguines of Bruges lived here for the last seven centuries.  "In 1937 the beguinage became a monastery for the Benedictine sisters who still live here now. The entrance gate bears the date 1776. A lot of houses, however, are much older than that. Most date from the 17th and 18th century. Some houses were built in the 19th century in neo-gothic style. In the southern part is a little dead end street where still some houses of the 15th-16th century can be found. The largest and most impressive house is situated in the left corner behind the garden. It was here that the 'grootjuffrouw', or 'grand-dame' lived. It was she who ruled over the beguinage". 
Elizabeht T. Knuth researched the subject :

( http://www.users.csbsju.edu/~eknuth/xpxx/beguines.html): 
"In the late twelfth century, women began to experiment with the possibility of a way of life outside of the socially endorsed alternatives of wife or cloistered nun. Social conditions were ripe for this new idea, and the Beguine movement flourished, reaching its peak in the latter half of the following century. My interest in the Beguines was piqued when I learned that "they were not bound by vows, were not subject to papal enclosure, and did not totally renounce the possibility of marriage; [and that] their piety seems to have centered on the eucharist and the humanity of Jesus."I also vaguely recalled that the Beguines had been charged with heresy. In my research, I have become convinced that the Beguine movement is very important indeed".