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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Flemish Béguinages
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Brugge - Begijnhof 22A - Monasterium - 82312.jpg
View of the Beguinage in Bruges

Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, iv
Reference 855
UNESCO region Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1998 (22nd Session)

A beguinage, from the French béguinage, is an architectural complex which was created to house beguines: lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world. There are two types of beguinages: those housing small, informal, and often poor communities that emerged across Europe after the twelfth century and the "court beguinages" (Dutch: begijnhof), a much larger and more stable type of community that emerged in the region of the Low Countries in the first decades of the thirteenth century.

Several Beguinages these are now listed by UNESCO as World Heritage. By the mid-thirteenth century, the French king Louis IX founded a beguinage in Paris, which was modeled on the court beguinages of the Low Countries.[1]


The Oxford English Dictionary, citing Du Cange, gives the origin of the word "beguine" in the name of Lambert le Bègue, "Lambert the Stammerer", an early supporter of the movement who died around 1180.


View of the Groot Begijnhof in Leuven

While a small beguinage usually constituted just one house where women lived together, a Low Countries court beguinage typically comprised one or more courtyards surrounded by houses, and also included a church, an infirmary complex, and a number of communal houses or 'convents'. From the twelfth century through the eighteenth, every city and large town in the Low Countries had at least one court beguinage: the communities dwindled and came to an end, over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries). They were encircled by walls and separated from the town proper by several gates which were closed at night. During the day the beguines could come and go as they pleased. Beguines came from a wide range of social classes, though truly poor women were only admitted if they had a wealthy benefactor who pledged to provide for their needs.

The Beguinage at Sint-Truiden with its chapel, left

Our understanding of women's motivations for joining the beguinages has changed dramatically in recent decades. The development of these communities is clearly linked to a preponderance of women in urban centers in the Middle Ages, but while earlier scholars like the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne believed that this "surplus" of women was caused by men dying in war, that theory has been debunked. Since the groundbreaking work of John Hajnal, who demonstrated that, for much of Europe, marriage occurred later in life and at a lower frequency than had previously been believed, historians have established that single women moved to the newly developed cities because those cities offered them work opportunities. Simons (2001) has shown how the smaller beguinages as well as the court beguinages answered those women's social and economic needs, in addition to offering them a religious life coupled with personal independence, which was a difficult thing to have for a woman.

Beguinages in Belgium[edit]

Thirteen Flemish beguinages have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1998.[2]

Other beguinages[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miller 2014.
  2. ^ UNESCO 1998.
  3. ^ Institute for Collective Action  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Institutions for Collective Action Retrieved January 8, 2016.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Institute for Collective Action  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ "Beguinages in Saint Quentin". Michelin Travel. Michelin. Retrieved January 8, 2016. 


  • Swan, Laura, The Wisdom of the Beguines: the Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women's Movement, BlueBridge, 2014.
  • Miller, Tanya Stabler (2014). Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0812246070. 
  • "Flemish Béguinages". List of World Heritage. UNESCO. 1998. 
  • Van Eck, Xander (2000-01). "Between Restraint and Excess: The Decoration of the Church of the Great Beguinage at Mechelen in the Seventeenth Century". Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art. 28 (3): 129–62. JSTOR 3780941.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links[edit]

Belgium's beguinages offered refuge for women CNN[dead link]

Coordinates: 51°24′12″N 4°45′50″E / 51.4033°N 4.7638°E / 51.4033; 4.7638