Begin the Beguines: Belgium’s Beguinages

Thanks to the divine Ms. Bleeding Espresso, I’m inviting myself to a party – The Ultimate Blog Party, if you must know – hosted by the wonder twins over at 5 Minutes for Mom. You’re invited, too!

Ultimate Blog Party 2008

I guess this is where I introduce myself. I’m not a mom; I’m better known as the Eccentric Eurotrash Auntie to my friends’ kids. The one who sends them esoteric picture books in other languages for Christmas, or a telescope, or a bug collecting kit, or whatever strange thing I find in my travels. (But nothing that makes noise. I need a place to crash when I visit the States, and I’d like to still be invited!)

And where am I that I need to visit the States? Well, that depends on what week you ask me. Since 2002, I split my time between where most of my clothes are, in Montpellier, France, where I live with my dear sweet boyfriend Cal and a cat named Ladybird “Squirt” Johnson; and where most of my heart is, in Rome, Italy, where I am the doyenne of my very own gay mafia and promoter of all things sybaritic. Feel free to check out my page tabs, above, for some highlighted musings about my kind of surreal expat life.

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In honor of my first all-girl party and to welcome an amazing bunch of women to my world, I’d like to tell you about something I recently discovered and find extremely fascinating. A tidbit:

Beguines — most likely derived from the Flemish word beghen, which means to pray — were women in the Low Countries who, beginning in the 12th century, chose to live neither under the care of a man nor the vows of the church.

Theirs was, in essence, a feminist movement and its remarkable architectural legacy is still evident in cities across the Netherlands and Belgium. But nowhere in greater splendor than in this old university town.

The Leuven beguinage (called a begijnhof in Dutch) was founded in 1230. Exquisitely restored in the 1960s, it is today a quaint little town of tiny gabled homes and gardens that spreads across 17 acres.

The entire article is definitely worth a read. The part of the Beguines’ story that touched me so was the fact that, while prayer was a part of their lives, they chose not to live within the confines of organized religion. Prayer means different things to different people – from reading a Bible or saying the rosary to watching a sunset or playing with a child. If you’re thinking about and thanking God for whatever you’re experiencing in a particular moment, you’re praying.

But prayer is also a thing that can be regarded as rigidly structured, even in this day and age – which is why I found it so forward-thinking of these women to discard societal norms in order to follow a quiet life of prayer.

When I’ve spoken to other women about the Beguines, I’ve been surprised at the level of passion with which they invariably say, “I want to be a Beguine!” It seems for these women, and perhaps for women everywhere in the modernized world, there is an overwhelming need for this type of retreat from what is considered a “normal” life. They don’t want to give up their lives or their loves; but they seem to want a place and a time for reflection, prayer, or just plain quiet.

So, now I’ve added another thing to my list of “million dollar” dreams: A modern-day beguinage for women from all walks of life. A large place, preferably by the sea (my own personal church), with simple accommodations, plenty of space and light, group meals, and scheduled times for individual prayer – whatever prayer means to you. Stay for however long you’d like. No partners, no kids, no Crackberries, no phones, no TV, no Internet. Just your fellow women, good food, and beautiful surroundings. The rates would be on a sliding scale. There would be no spa facilities.

Would you find succor in a place like that? What elements would you include at your beguinage? What does prayer mean to you?

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I’m including other links here if you’d like to know more, so please feel free to peruse to your heart’s content!

Beguinages are World Heritage Sites! Who knew?
Great pictures here.
Wikipedia lists other beguinages worldwide.
Belgian Beguinages on Google maps.
Even better pictures, and a murder!

11 thoughts on “Begin the Beguines: Belgium’s Beguinages

  1. Oh I would love that! I mean if I didn’t have a partner now and all, but I’d love to stay there for a few months a year at least. Except the no Internet part. That’d be tough.

    Happy partying! So glad you joined in🙂

  2. I’m inviting you to party with me!

    Win some chocolate from my-sister-in-law and I…we blog about CHOCOLATE…me from Australia…and her from Michigan. Here’s the link: http://thechocolistas.blogspot.com/2008/03/ultimate-blog-party-2008.html

    What am I doing in Australia? I married an Aussie…and moved to Brisbane, leaving my family and friends and all the right-side-of-the-road drivers in America.

    Win a handmade pocket place mat from my blog Comfort Joy Designs. Here’s the link:
    http://comfortjoydesigns.blogspot.com/2008/03/ultimate-blog-party-2008.html

    Want to know more about life in Australia? Visit my A Cup of Joy site where I keep up with my family and friends in America. Here’s the link:
    http://acupofjoy.wordpress.com/

    Happy Partying!

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