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Welcome to the beguine and Beatrice of Nazareth pages of Katrien Vander Straeten



Beguines - Begijntjes

and Beatrice of Nazareth



Deze website is toegewijd aan Marcel Vander Straeten, voor zijn steun en hulp  bij het maken van deze pagina's, en verder voor zijn waarlijk groots grootvaderschap

This website is dedicated to Marcel Vander Straeten, for his support and help in making these pages, and furthermore for his truly grand grandfathership


Preface, 16 August 2002

I also wish to thank Prof. D. Klepper of the Religion Department at Boston University for the great course I attended in Spring 2001, on "Gender in Medieval Christian Mysticism", which galvanized my latent interest in this material.

When I started work on this website, I envisioned it as a rather ambitious project. I wished to incorporate in it everything that I learned from my studies in the subject, and also the best of the pictures, anecdotes, etc. that I found underway. To my regret my present principal study does not allow me to pursue these studies and to work on the website as much as I want to. To an advanced doctoral student in Philosophy working on a dissertation on Immanuel Kant, Beatrice, beguines and medieval women do not come into the picture very often (i.e., at all). And so,  if once in a while I return to the site, it will involve more of a patching up than a making of substantial additions or changes. And unfortunately this means that those parts of the site that were most incomplete, will remain that way for a while longer.  I. The first part of this website, on beguinages in contemporary Belgium, is still, I believe, a good introduction. III. Also the third part, on the Cistercian nun Beatrice of Nazareth (who spent some time with beguines), was already sufficiently extensive and elaborate to give people a good idea of Beatrice and her work, and some idea at least of her world. It could (always) use more information but, again, I think readers interested in Beatrice will find it a nice introductory resource. II. The second part, on the history, (medieval) daily life and spirituality of beguines, is the most ambitious, but  also the most incomplete part. I warn the reader that, as it stands, this part is very unsatisfactory, and that it will continue to be victim to the most regrettable neglect. 

You can click here for an update on the (few) changes that are being made. 

With regard to part I, one of my ambitions is to go back to Belgium and spend some weeks interviewing the present beguines, as to their motives for joining the "movement", their lives throughout the decades, the stories they know of their predecessors, etc. I would transcribe these interviews, translate them and (with their permission) make them publicly available on this website. One thing I can imagine better historians than myself doing is to take these contemporary stories as the starting point for a projection back into time. The stories of the beguines can also be relevant for the many religious women (primarily in the States), from whom I received responses to this website. I hope to do this on one of my trips back to my homeland. 

I must also refer to the newly published Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565, by Walter Simons (University of Pennsylvania Press, June 2001). This book is certainly a good supplement to McDowell's volume, and may even replace it as the most authoritative work on the Beguines. I regret that I did not have recourse to Simons' book when making these pages, as it had not yet appeared. Again it will take me a while to incorporate it.

Whatever the shortcomings of the site, I have been receiving many positive reactions for students and researchers from all over the world and from all walks of life. I thank them profusely for their enthusiasm and encouragement. I hope many more may find this to be a good resource, however introductory. And I still definitely and greatly appreciate comments, contributions, corrections and criticisms.. Please continue to e-mail me at




Part I. Beguinages in Belgium (1)



In my home country, Belgium, you can still visit many beguinages (Dutch: "begijnhoven"). Many of these are tourist places now, or have received other secular functions, like the one in Leuven, which houses the university's students and professors. But some still have “live-in” beguines. I remember that as a child my grandmother took me on a visit to “de begijntjes” of St. Amandsberg near Ghent.  My grandfather tells me that at present there are still 6 beguines in Belgium. By the way, in Dutch beguines were and are always mentioned in that diminutive - “begijn-tjes" -; no ridicule is thereby intended (any more), and also Dutch scholarly works refer to them like that.

Click on the thumbnail on the right and you will find a map(2) of all the beguinages in Belgium. On it I have framed five locations which you will find histories and pictures of on this site.

Enter here  for pictures, maps and histories of these particular beguinages. I apologize for the long download time of some of these pages: especially the visual material takes a long time, but it is, I hope, worth the wait.



Part II. Beguines: history, daily life, spirituality (3)


STILL VERY MUCH UNDER CONSTRUCTION: some pictorial material, not much text as yet.

Enter here for a more scholarly overview of the beguine movement, of its history, and of the spirituality and daily life of beguines in the Middle Ages.




Part III. Beatrice of Nazareth (4) 



A. Life and background. Beatrijs van Nazareth (c. 1200-1268) became a  nun in the Cistercian Abbey at Nazareth (near Lier in Flanders). Though a Cistercian nun, Beatrice is often mentioned in the same breath with beguines - as in Petroff (5) - because she was educated (spiritually) by beguines, and (less directly) because her father held a prominent place as a lay religious man. Beatrice and her family present a good example of the close connections between the lay and beguine movement and the monasteries. Enter the gate to find information about Beatrice's background and life, as well as pictures of the monasteries where she spent her life, and some information on some of her contemporaries (Hadewijch, Ida van Nijvel, Lutgard of Tongeren, Christina Mirabilis).

B. Seuen Manieren. Another reason for Beatrice's beguine status is her writing, the spirituality of which is close to that of e.g. Hadewijch. Beatrice wrote the mystical text Van seuen manieren van heiliger minnen, Of Seven Manners of Holy Loving, in Middle-Dutch. When you enter the gate, you will find the original text and translations, photographs of the extant mss.; my study of this text; and of relevance to Beatrice's text and life, also the more general paper that I wrote on the so-called "Bynum-thesis" about the suffering of the female body in religious/mystical practice.

C. Vita Beatricis. In the same language Beatrice also wrote an "autobiography", the original of which was lost. Luckily this autobiography was "translated" into Latin by a (male) clgeric. This makes Beatrice's autobiography the first Middle-Dutch text to be "translated" into Latin. The Vita Beatricis, Latin text and English translation, is available in the Cistercian Fathers Series(6). Enter the gate for information.

Finally, click here for a bibliography of secondary literature on Beatrice.



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(1) Photograph taken probably around the turn of the century,  of a beguine in the corridor of the dormitory, at the Great Beguinage in St.Amandsberg, Ghent, Belgium.

(2) Map taken from the website of Maarten Jansen, at:

(3) Engraving of a beguine, presumably in city-dress (cf. dress), from the Mansell Collection. Source: Wade Labarge, Margaret, Small Sound of the Trumpet, Women in Medieval Life, Boston, Beacon Press, p.118.

(4) Beatrice's medallion on the "family tree" of the female Cistercian saints, Abbey Marienlof - "Praise of Mary", source: Hogenelst, Dini and Van Oostrom, Frits, Handgeschreven Wereld, Amsterdam, Prometheus, 1995, 134.

(5) Petroff mentions Beatrice together with Marie of Oignies, Christina Mirabilis, and Hadewijch of Brabant, under the title "New Styles of Feminine Spirituality - The Beguine Movement". For the Seven Manners translated by Eric Colledge, cf. Petroff, Elizabeth Avilda, Medieval Women's Visionary Literature, Oxford, Oxford UP, 1986, 200-206.

(6) The Life of Beatrice of Nazareth (translated and annotated by Roger De Ganck), Cistercian Publ., 1991. (vol. 50 of the Cistercian Fathers Series)

(7) Written as a term paper for the course RN713/TH813, "Gender in Medieval Christian Mysticism", with Prof. Deeana Klepper, Spring 2001.


Click for a bibliography of books (not of websites)