Written by Sherry
Friday, 30 March 2007 16:51
A fascinating website - that of the historic Beguinage of Amersterdam. It tells the story of this unique movement of lay women - the Beguines - who had an enormous influence and survived for 7 centuries right through the Reformation and persecution.
A Beguine could hardly be called a nun. She took no vows, could return to the world and wed if she would, and did not renounce her property. If she was without means she neither asked nor accepted alms, but supported herself by manual labour, or by teaching the children of burghers. During the time of her novitiate she lived with "the Grand Mistress" of her cloister, but afterwards she had her own dwelling, and, if she could afford it, was attended by her own servants. The same aim in life, kindred pursuits, and community of worship were the ties which bound her to her companions.
There was no mother-house, nor common rule, nor common general of the order; every community was complete in itself and fixed its own order of living, though later on many adopted the rule of the Third Order of St. Francis.
Communities were no less varied as to the social status of their members; some of them only admitted ladies of high degree; others were exclusively reserved for persons in humble circumstances; others again opened their doors wide to women of every condition, and these were the most densely peopled. Several, like the great Beguinage of Ghent, numbered their inhabitants by thousands.
Admirably adapted to the spiritual and social needs of the age which produced it, it spread rapidly throughout the land and soon began to exercise a profound influence on the religious life of the people. Each of these institutions was an ardent centre of mysticism and it was not the monks, who mostly dwelt on the countryside, nor even the secular clergy, but the Beguines, the Beghards, and the sons of Saint Francis who moulded the thought of the urban population of the Netherlands.
By the close of the 13th century there was hardly a commune in the Netherlands without its Beguinage, whilst several of the great cities had two or three or even more.The last Beguine died only a few years ago.
The story of the Beguines also shows something of the relative freedom of the pre-Reformation Church, especially where women were concerned.
In reaction to the Reformation, nearly all attempts to found unenclosed women's communities were suppressed for over 100 years. But prior to the Reformation, other unenclosed communities who took no vows were approved , such as that of St. Francis of Rome, who was married and lived at home with her husband until his death.
The website has many pictures and a very interesting section on the Eucharistic "Miracle of Amsterdam", which still inspires the "Silent Process" every March in which 10,000 pilgrims from around the country walk in complete silence in the wee hours of the morning.