Saturday, March 13, 2010

Beguines Model Spiritual Formation

Beguinage Brugge Belgium

The Beguines were laywomen who had a personal relationship with Jesus and formed Christian communities so that they could cultivate intimacy with the Lord. Beginning just before the year 1200, they started a movement that soon included tens of thousands of women, mostly singles and widows, who lived together in large households. Here they lived with like-minded believers and pursued knowing Jesus on a deep level. In their communities, they enjoyed a safe place to live and work, as well as fellowship with sisters in the Lord. Younger women could be mentored by older sisters in Christ, and all had the opportunity to hear Scripture read on a daily basis.

Paradigm of Spiritual Formation
The Beguines provide twenty-first century believers a wonderful paradigm of the deeper Christian life. They exemplify for us:
~Radical commitment to Christ
~Daily soaking in Scripture
~Passion for Intimacy with Jesus
~Self-sacrificing service to those in need
~Creativity—some of the first in Europe to write in vernacular
~Cultivation of genuine spiritual friendships
~Initiative in founding a new form of Christian community
Part of the radical New Monasticism of their day, they provide a working model for believers today who are sold-out for Jesus.

Monuments to the Beguine Movement
While only a few Beguines still live in Belgium today, more than a dozen of these complexes are preserved as historical sites today. The beautiful Beguinage in the city of Bruge, Belgium still stands today (photo above). Although no Beguines remain at this location, nuns now use this quiet space and wear the habits of the women who once walked here.

If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Belgium, Bruges is a must-see! It is one of the true gems of Europe. Although not as well known as some other sites on the Continent, the old city in Bruges gives you a feel for what life was like in the Middle Ages. The Beguinage welcomes tourists and pilgrims, who are invited to quietly explore the grounds and join in the chapel for evening vespers. One of be best preserved beguinages, Bruges gives Christians today a glimpse of the dedicated lives lived by these saintly women of God.

Great Books on the Beguines
Bowie, Fiona, ed. Beguine Spirituality. Crossroad, 1990.
Dickens, Andrea J. The Female Mystic. I. B. Tauris, 2009.
Grundmann, Herbert. Religious Movements of the Middle Ages. University of Notre Dame Press, 1995.
Hadewijch. Hadewijch: The Complete Works. Paulist Press, 1980.
King, Margot, trans. Two Lives of Marie d’Oignies. Peregrina Publishing, 2002.
Lerner, Robert E. The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages. University of California Press, 1972.
The Life of Beatrice of Nazareth, 1200-1268. Cistercian Publications, 1991.
McDonnell, Ernest W. The Beguines and Beghards. Rutgers University Press, 1954.
McGinn, Bernard, ed. Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics. Continuum, 1994.
Mechthild of Magdeburg. The Flowing Light of the Godhead. Paulist Press, 1998.
Murk-Jansen, Saskia. Brides in the Desert. Orbis, 2004.
Simons, Walter. Cities of Ladies. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Bowie and Murk-Jansen’s works offer nice introductions to the spirituality of the Beguines. Simons provides a readable but thorough study of the development of the Beguine movement in Belgium, highlighting its early years as well as the establishment of the great Beguine complexes/compounds, some of which stand today. Grundmann paints a broader picture of the Beguine movement, introducing readers to its development in Germany and placing it in its historical context of the great women’s revival that swept northern Europe. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list of books on the Beguines, these are some of the most helpful.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

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