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.References:
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.
Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism. It intentionally resembles the 17th-century Yaroslavl churches and the celebrated St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.
The Church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaics — according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day — including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel — but the church's chief architect, Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, was relatively little-known (born in St. Petersburg in 1842 in a Baltic-German Lutheran family). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Church's construction ran well over budget, having been estimated at 3.6 million roubles but ending up costing over 4.6 million. The walls and ceilings inside the Church are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — the main pictures being biblical scenes or figures — but with very fine patterned borders setting off each picture.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes.
In July 1970, management of the Church passed to Saint Isaac's Cathedral (then used as a highly profitable museum) and proceeds from the Cathedral were funneled back into restoring the Church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship; it is a Museum of Mosaics. Even before the Revolution it never functioned as a public place of worship; having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar, the only services were panikhidas (memorial services). The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.