Saturday, June 9, 2018
The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women's Movement Paperback – June 14, 2016 by Laura Swan (BlueBridge)
This book is thorough. The bibliography shows that the author accessed many sources, both primary and secondary. While Swan is occasionally whimsical in her speculations, she makes sure that readers know when she's making educated guesses and when she's conveying documented facts. Swan's text is written for nonacademics, and as such, it is an important contribution to beguine studies. I am sending it to my mom so she'll better understand my scholarly research.
If you want to know even more, use Swan's superb bibliography to track down additional sources. For a start, I recommend: Cities of Ladies by Walter Simons; Beguine Spirituality edited and introduced by Fiona Bowie and translated by Oliver Davis; and Brides in the Desert: The Spirituality of the Beguines by Saskia Murk-Jansen.
The beguines began to form in various parts of Europe over eight hundred years ago. Beguines were laywomen, not nuns, and they did not live in monasteries. They practiced a remarkable way of living independently, and they were never a religious order or a formalized movement. But there were common elements that these medieval women shared across Europe, including their visionary spirituality, their unusual business acumen, and their courageous commitment to the poor and sick. Beguines were essentially self-defined, in opposition to the many attempts to control and define them. They lived by themselves or in communities called beguinages, which could be single homes for just a few women or, as in Brugge, Brussels, and Amsterdam, walled-in rows of houses where hundreds of beguines lived together—a village of women within a medieval town or city.
Among the beguines were celebrated spiritual writers and mystics, including Mechthild of Magdeburg, Beatrijs of Nazareth, Hadewijch, and Marguerite Porete—who was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake in Paris in 1310. She was not the only beguine suspected of heresy, and often politics were the driving force behind such charges.
The beguines, across the centuries, have left us a great legacy. They invite us to listen to their voices, to seek out their wisdom, to discover them anew.