Friday, March 19, 2010

Beguines: The "New Monasticism" of their Day

Leuven, Belgium

Presently part of the University of Leuven

In many ways the Beguines were a part of the “New Monasticism” of their day. While remaining laywomen, most of them lived together in communities. Some of these were smaller households of a dozen believers; others developed into communities of several hundred women. Early in the movement married women were among the Beguines, living with their families and joining the community of single women for Scripture reading and ministry as they were able.

The Beguines committed themselves to a simple spiritual rule of gathering for Scripture morning and evening. This was a much simpler rule than the Benedictine monks and nuns who attended chapel seven times each day. Such a simple rule allowed the Beguines to work for a living throughout the day. Especially those who spun wool and pressed linen were able to focus on the day’s reading as they worked with their hands.

They cultivated spiritual friendship within their communities, nurturing a common spiritual life. Beguines also made a commitment of obedience so long as they remained in the beguinage.

The wealthier Beguines who founded the beguinages and owned their own homes extended hospitality to needy women, inviting them to join the community. They welcomed poorer maidens from the countryside who had no money to build their own home. Such maids were provided dormitory living as minimum cost, as well as a job in the textile industry, so they could begin to earn a living.

In addition, Beguines served the general population in need—especially the poor, the sick, the lepers and the dying. They provided education for poor girls in the town who otherwise would never have the opportunity to learn to read and write.

To see the parallels with the New Monasticism movement of our day, see the website:

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

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