The Princely Béguinage Ten Wijngaerde is the only preserved béguinage (architectural complex which formerly housed beguines, lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world) in Bruges. There are no more Beguines living there, but since 1927 it functions as a convent for Benedictines, founded by canon Hoornaert. In the same year the houses at the west side were also reshaped and enlarged into the Monasterium De Wijngaard, a priory of Benedictine nuns.
Already before 1240 a community of pious women settled at the domain de Wingarde (old Dutch for vineyard), in the South of the city. This name probably refers to low-lying meadows. The béguinage was founded around 1244 by Margaret of Constatinopel, after she requested permission to Walter van Marvis, bishop of Tournai, to move over the tomb chapel on the Burg of Bruges to the Wijngaard. In 1245 it was recognised as an independent parish. In 1299 it came under direct authority of king Philip the Fair and it was entitled as 'Princely Béguinage'.
The complex includes a gothic béguinage church and about thirty white painted houses dating from the late 16th, 17th and 18th century. Practically all of these are built around a central yard. The main entrance with gate can be reached via the three-arched stone bridge, the Wijngaard Bridge. In a bay the image of the holy Elizabeth of Hungary can be seen, who was the patron of many béguinages. De Wijngaard is also devoted to Saint Alexius. The entrance gate was built in 1776 by master mason Hendrik Bultynck. The first Beguine house next to the entrance is furnished as a museum and the exhibition includes paintings, 17th and 18th century furniture and lacework, among others. A second gate gives access to the Sas House, via the Sas Bridge.
Ten Wijngaerde is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Flemish Béguinages.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).