Begin the Beguine

Good afternoon class! Today’s history lesson is on the Beguine movement of the 13th century.

What’s a beguine you ask? Well this is a beguine…

OK, that is a statue of a beguine. Not a real beguine. The real beguines are all dead.


What was a beguine? Well class, the beguines were a female religious movement that began in Northern Europe in the 13th century. The Beguines were women who choose to live together in a communal way outside of the walls of society. They were not a religious order, as they did not take vows, or live a monastic life. Instead they were more of a hippie commune for unmarried women. In the 1200’s a woman had basically 2 possible choices in life; Marriage, or the Nunnery. A single unmarried woman had few options open to them. Without a husband, or a convent to support them they faced a life of poverty and homelessness.

The crusades, and constant wars of the middle ages had thinned out the population of eligible males to a point where there just weren’t enough men to go around. The result was that the families of these “surplus” of women began fighting for positions in the convents and religious orders at the time, driving up the price of gaining entry. The beguine movement was a response to that. By pooling their money and resources outside of the bonds of marriage and the church these women could live together and support themselves.

I had no idea that this happened either. It’s amazing all the things that the history books forget to tell you. I only know about them because the hotel I am staying at is next door to the Groot Begijnhof of Leuven. The Begijnhof (Beguinage in French) is a collection of buildings just outside the old city walls, on the banks of the Dijle River, where up until 1968 the beguines lived and worked. In 1968 the last of the Beguines died, and the site passed into the hands of the city of Leuven. They in turn, sold the property to the Catholic University of Leuven which restored the buildings and property, and used it for faculty housing. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the other remaining beguinages in Flanders.

I wish these pictures could convey the peaceful solitude of the place. Just walking the cobblestone streets the sound of your footsteps is noticeable in the silence of the place. When the carillon in the Gothic Church plays the sounds of the bells roll down the brick streets, and come back to you like echoes of the past. It is haunting. And for a history geek with an overactive imagination, it just ripples through me in a way that I cannot resist.

Enjoy the photos…


17 thoughts on “Begin the Beguine

  1. Gorgeous photos. Your ploy to distract me with those glorious shots so that I wouldn’t make a comment about all the steamy lesbian sex going on at that “commune” almost worked.

  2. Ooooh, I love a commune. Especially a commune of women saying “F marriage!” Although I also love marriage. It’s worked out very well for me.

    Your pics are amazing. That fountain? Incredible.

    • You and me.
      Shell bikinis.
      Bongo drums.
      Lots of sand.
      Burning effigy.
      Virgin sacrifices. (so that I would never be in danger)

  3. How is it that you can manage to post from exotic far flung remote locations all over the world but I come home from a long commute and drown in a big ass glass of wine rendering myself incapable of typing proper sentences?
    Holy run on dangling particlple.
    I wish I could run on some of that steam. How the hell do you do it.
    More nun porn. Man hands optional.

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