Large Béguinage

Mechelen, Belgium

Beguines are women who could not or did not want to enter a convent, but lived together as a community to support themselves. Around 1560 the beguinage outside the city walls of Mechelen was destroyed. The beguines re-established themselves inside the city walls, where the Large Beguinage (Groot Begijnhof) grew up. They bought up existing buildings and built new dwellings, which explains why the Large Beguinage is rather different in character from beguinages in other cities. Because of its typical Flemish character and unique architecture, the Large Beguinage was declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

Beguines and beguinages Beguinages were small towns within a town. They had their own bakery, brewery, nursing home, church and bleaching fields. Beguinages were founded in the time of the crusades. Many of the men who left on a crusade never returned, which resulted in a surplus of women: widows, orphans and women who failed to find a suitable husband. Going and living in a convent was one solution, but many convents only took aristocratic or well-to-do women. Women who didn't enter a convent for whatever reason, went to live together and together were able to sustain themselves. The main difference with convents was that the beguines did not take the life-long vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. So they were not tied to the beguinage for life, though most did live out their life there. Initially the church treated them as heretics, but gradually they were accepted on condition that they led a devout life. This was how beguinages in Flanders originated. A beguinage was headed up by a Grand Mistress, who was assisted in the organization and coordination of daily life by mistresses.

Rich, usually aristocratic beguines would build their own house or buy one in the beguinage. Less well-off beguines rented a room from these homeowners and took charge of the housekeeping. Beguines with no possessions were taken into small convents, usually founded by benefactors, to guarantee that prayers were said for the occupants or their deceased family member. Beguines in the convents had to work for their living, which is one reason lace-making became one of the most important activities in the seventeenth century. So the beguinage played a crucial role in Mechelen's lace industry.

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Founded: 1560
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User Reviews

Mysterieus Mechelen (7 months ago)
Zalig wandelen door geschiedenis. Maar bijvoorbeeld de centjesmuur moet dringend gerestaureerd worden. Een stuk oude omwalling rond begijnhof.
Daan Demeulenaere (9 months ago)
Dit werd aanbevolen om eens te bekijken als je in Mechelen zit maar het is zeker niet wat je denkt. We hebben een paar keer rond de kerk gewandeld om te kijken waar het was maar blijkbaar waren het gewoon de straten rond de kerk die het begijnhof is. Met alle respect voor deze gebouwen maar dit is iets heel anders dan een begijnhof in Kortrijk of Brugge. We dachten dat dit een grote tuin ging hebben zoals in Brugge maar dat is niet zo. Ook het kleine begijnhof is hetzelfde.
Marco B (9 months ago)
Leuk om hier even door te lopen als je in de buurt bent. Het is niet heel groot, maar de mooie oude huizen maken het de moeite waard.
Vladimíra Storchová (12 months ago)
Nonnestraat je ulice Sester, tato adresa upozorňuje na Begijnhof v Mechelenu. Není uzavřený, jako jiné, je součátí města, částečně modernizovaný, ale pořád příslovečně tichý, 3 kostely. Mechelen je velmi vlídné neprávem opomíjené město s lidskými rozměry, obejdete vše zajímavé pohodlně pěšky, můžete jít i po lávce, která je na vodě, velmi dobrá delší přestávka při cestě do těch velkých měst kolem, ale jistě je moc příjemné tam i bydlet.
Ramunė Vaičiulytė (16 months ago)
Very inspired, take a walk here! Every city has such place, but Mechelen is different. It is typical Flemish character and unique architecture. I can understand why it was places to UNESCO World Heritage list. :)
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