The Beguines - Representatives of an Alternative Way of Life

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Considering this statement of Brenda M. Bolton one is able to select main ideas of the beguine movement: their motivation in living lives of religiousness, penitence, charity, poverty, chastity and obedience had its roots in the desire to emulate Jesus Christ outside of the traditional ecclesiastical institutions — an aspiration influenced by the spirit of the religious movement at the begin of the thirteenth century. Women of these highest social classes were the only ones who could obtain permission to enter convents — nevertheless, some of them decided on a conscious renunciation of the life of a nun.

Regarding the relatively comfortable circumstances concerning the life inside cloisters, Galloway as well as Shahar claim, that one reason for this decision could be the rejection of affluence, which prevailed in most nunneries. The wealthy women preferred to accept the loss of reputation which might be a consequence of such an unusual way of life. Apart from this superior religious aim there was, however, only a little sense of unity, because the beguine movement displayed a wide range of habits with various emphases.

Later on, beguines used different methods to support themselves in a self-sufficient way. Although they were often permitted to retain their possessions, the women tended to earn their livelihood through manual labour, e. Lucas : Women in the Middle Ages. Religion, Marriage and Letters, Brighton: Harvester, p. Bolton , p. You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Herb-Workers and Heretics: The Beguines.

Roslyn Frank. Overview of the Beguine Movement [draft Frank University of Iowa Email: roz-frank uiowa. The same term was used by their detractors and overt opponents, with the highly charged negative meaning of 1 "heretic. The tracks of the movement become increasingly difficult to follow as one moves back in time. Naturally, this is true of all medieval studies when one attempts to penetrate the so- called Dark Ages. The dearth of written texts and general lack of coordinated studies, focused on specific towns and villages of this zone, make it extraordinarily difficult to determine with any accuracy a beginning date for the movement.

Nonetheless, in this period, as soon as written sources become available, the Beguines are already present as a social group. The problem arises when one attempts to speculate on their status and extent during the early 9th and 10th centuries, periods for which no documentation is available concerning the activities of the popular classes. Indeed, the documentation for the movement is extremely sparse even in the 11th century.

The Beguines - Representatives of an Alternative Way of Life

Roslyn M. The women who called themselves Beguines came from all social classes and their life styles varied as much as their social backgrounds. Some lived at home with their families; others supported themselves by working; some enjoyed substantial incomes and endowments; while others lived more or less unattached lives, choosing often to beg for their sustenance. These latter women did not reside permanently in Beguinages, but rather traveled about the countryside preaching their beliefs. The Beguines were generally unmarried women, although at times widows were also represented.

Apparently married women could join once they received the permission of their husbands. The Beguines were tied by no permanent vows, and were free to depart at any time. Among them, personal property was usual. Often a Beguinage consisted of nothing more than a tiny house or loft located in the town's poorer section and inhabited by four or five Beguines. At other times, whole streets were lined by houses owned or rented by Beguines. The women lived communally, sharing expenses and incomes, much as would be the case in a collective or cooperative. Depending on the size of the house, the women elected one of their group to supervise their business affairs.

The election of the Magistra or "Martha" as she was called, usually occurred when there were fifteen or more women sharing a house. Three types of income were available to the Beguinages: the property the members brought with them on entrance, contributions and donations by relatives and patrons, and the money earned by the Beguines themselves.

Although the Beguines as a group were often accused of begging, high priority was put on obtaining a livelihood through manual labor. They were engaged in all occupations open to women, and in addition, were particularly active in the education of young girls who studied in the Beguine schools. They also played a major role in providing medical care for both the poor and the rich. In the case of members of the lower classes, their services were provided free, as charity, but in the latter, they received compensation.

The cures were based on folk medical practices which were primarily herbal in nature. Their success in the weaving industry allowed them to own shops and eventually to dominate the guilds in some areas. This same economic success contributed to their downfall, for it met with much controversy from the public sector and the male guilds. The competition of the Beguinages with the male dominated guilds grew into a series of disputes that led town councils and guilds to enact discriminatory legislation against the Beguines. By the mid-fifteenth century, the increasingly restrictive nature of these guilds and locally imposed regulations reduced many a thriving Beguinage to a poor house for destitute women.

Often, the Beguinage resembled a miniature town populated solely by women, situated just outside the actual urban center, and having its own church, cemetery, hospital, pharmacy, school, public square, streets and walks.

The Beguines - Representatives of an Alternative Way of Life - Marion Luger - Google Books

Throughout Europe it was common for the Beguines to own mills where they ground wheat for themselves, as well as for the general population of the area. The most well-known of these miniature cities is the great Beguinage of Ghent, which was founded in by the Countesses of Flanders, Jeanne and Marguerite. At the beginning of the 14th century, this Beguinage, surrounded by its walls and moats, contained two churches, open plazas, eighteen conventual dwellings where the younger Beguines lived, over a hundred houses where the older women resided, a brewery and an infirmary, all of which were run by women.

The close ties of this house with the ruling families of Flanders may well explain why it survived to the twentieth century. During the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, across Europe the Beguines enjoyed the widespread patronage and enthusiastic support of members of all social classes who endowed them with lands, material goods, and stipends.

Often, these donations were willed to the Beguines with the stipulation that the women pray for the deceased donor by celebrating anniversary masses. In France, they initially received substantial support from St. Louis, who provided them with houses in Paris and other cities. He also left them abundant legacies in his will as did his sons. In Paris, it was reported that there were multitudes of Beguines. About , they were estimated at two thousand in Cologne and its vicinity, and there were as many in the single Great Beguinage of Nivelle in Brabant.

By the fourteenth century, their numbers had grown rapidly and those living in the sedentary manner described above were estimated at , in Germany alone. It should be noted that such a figure may not be indicative of their total number, since many Beguines did not reside permanently in the Beguinages. At first these decrees met with resistance from the Beguines, local lay and ecclesiastical authorities, as well as from the Beguine's royal patrons.

However, the later papal decrees proceeded to outline increasingly severe punishments for those who aided the Beguines. This served to drastically reduce the popular support the movement had previously enjoyed. This was particularly true in Germany where a blanket provision pronounced excommunication for those actively participating in the Beguine movement, and also for anyone aiding and abetting the Beguines. In Germany where the Beguines were said to number some , at the time of the Inquisitorial decree, the property belonging to the innumerable Beguinages was confiscated by the Inquisition.

The women were given three days notice prior to expulsion from their homes. The Beguinages were ordered sold with one third of the proceeds supposedly being used to repair the walls and roads of the town; another third went directly to the Inquisitors to defray the cost of the proceedings against them; and the last third was given also to the Inquisitors to be used as alms to the poor, the church, penitent heretics, Beguines who renounced their allegiance to the movement, and those imprisoned, the 3 Readers who are familiar with the Basque serora's duties and responsibilities will recognize the structural parallels between the two sets of data: the morphology of the Beguines' religious role and that of the serora.

Frank , By the end of the fifteenth century, after several hundred years of active persecution, the Beguine life style ceased to be a viable alternative for women. The movement was nearly extinct, having been reduced to a few isolated Beguinages. During these two centuries, hundreds of thousands of women were forced to abandon a way of life that had offered them an independent existence outside marriage and the cloister. These women suffered diverse fates. Some chose to become Tertiaries of the established Franciscan and Dominican Orders.

Many others, less fortunate, but perhaps more resolute in their beliefs, were burned by the Inquisition. Thousands of others were banished from their hometowns or forced into flight to avoid prosecution. The plight of those who fled is essentially undocumented. However, one may hypothesize that some of the women joined the ranks of the so-called heretical movements, such as the Sisters of the Free Spirit, whose way of life and philosophical tenets have so often been confused with those of the Beguines.

The free Beguines refused to submit to ordained, spiritual officials, and continued to propagate what must have been considered subversive doctrines by their opponents, throughout the countryside, holding secret meetings in forests, caves, and other underground places. Given that as persecution increased the wandering free Beguines formed an increasingly clandestine network of the movement, little is known concerning the details of the daily lives of the Beguines working underground.

However, since they frequently came into direct conflict with the Episcopal and Inquisitional authorities, there is significant information concerning those who were captured and sentenced. The first occurred in Paris in , a year before the Council of Vienna issued the Clementine decrees.

Some scholars state that it was the actions of the woman burned here which directly contributed to the subsequent issuance of the Clementine decrees one year later. Indeed, "free Beguines" who lived without the oversight of the mendicant orders virtually disappeared. As a chronicler of Basel stated with apparent glee, new rulings brought fear to the "entire rabble.

The Beguines - Representatives of an Alternative Way of Life The Beguines - Representatives of an Alternative Way of Life
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