Beguines were women who dedicated their lives to God without retiring from the world. In the 13th century they founded the beguinages, enclosed communities designed to meet their spiritual and material needs. Because of a natural population imbalance combined with the decimations of war, Crusades and other high-risk male endeavors, woman greatly outnumbered men, and female virtue and life were unusually cheap. In a beguinage they were safe and could live a life of devotion to God and good works.
In the 13th century beguinages were found in, what is now, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Northern France and even in England. But if you would like to visit a beguinage today, you will have to visit Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. About 30 beguinages, or parts of it, are preserved here. We selected the 24 most important. In the Netherlands only the beguinages of Amsterdam and Breda still exist in all their glory. In France the 2 remaining beguinages of Saint Vaast and Saint Nicolas in Cambrai are in real danger, because they are no longer inhabited and lack every maintenance.
In Flanders a "Beguinage" will be indicated as "Begijnhof". In Wallonia you will read "Béguinage".
From the 24 selected beguinages, 13 were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. This is a proof that they are of extreme beauty and importance in our days. The coordinates in the list below will allow you to find them with great precision with the help of a GPS navigator.
|Belgian Beguinages||WGS 84|
|1||Beguinage, Hoogstraten *||622559||5696173||31||51.403525||4.762000|
|2||Beguinage, Turnhout *||635647||5687922||31||51.326396||4.946903|
|3||Hof van Sion Beguinage, Antwerp||598729||5675500||31||51.222339||4.413804|
|4||Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde, Bruges *||515653||5672282||31||51.201728||3.224047|
|6||Beguinage, Lier *||609667||5665284||31||51.128512||4.567259|
|7||Old St. Elisabeth Beguinage, Ghent||550055||5656348||31||51.056477||3.714214|
|8||Great Beguinage, St. Amandsberg *||552365||5656232||31||51.055228||3.747155|
|9||Our Lady Ter Hoyen Beguinage (Small Beginage), Ghent *||551510||5655228||31||51.046277||3.734814|
|10||Great Beguinage, Mechelen *||603466||5654458||31||51.032347||4.475573|
|11||Small Beguinage, Mechelen||603625||5654380||31||51.031617||4.477818|
|13||St. Alexius Beguinage, Dendermonde *||577096||5653490||31||51.027787||4.099380|
|14||Beguinage, Diest *||644648||5650496||31||50.987854||5.060959|
|18||Small Beguinage, Leuven||619500||5638393||31||50.884835||4.698865|
|19||Great Beguinage, Leuven *||619404||5636924||31||50.871650||4.697021|
|21||Beguinage Audenarde (Oudenaarde)||542662||5632397||31||50.841705||3.605927|
|22||St. Agnes Beguinage, Sint-Truiden *||654484||5632215||31||50.821025||5.193261|
|23||Beguinage, Kortrijk *||518829||5630759||31||50.828241||3.267350|
|24||Beguinage, Tongeren *||674038||5628220||31||50.779586||5.468723|
|* = on UNESCO World Heritage List|
1 Beguinage Hoogstraten *. Fourteenth century beguinage with today's beautifully restored buildings from the 17th century. The beguinage can always be visited. The church only by appointment (tourist office).
2 Beguinage Turnhout *. Thirteenth century beguinage with church from 1665 and a chapel. It is one of the most beautiful and peaceful beguinages in Belgium. The baroque Beguinage church and the "Heilig Aanschijn" chapel are well worth visiting. The houses are now a residence for old people. Open all year.
3 Hof van Sion Beguinage in Antwerp. This beguinage dates from the 16th century. Sixteen of the 44 charming little houses are still inhabited by beguines. The St. Catharina church dates from the same period as the houses. Open from Mondays - Wednesdays from 9 Am - 3 PM. Closed on public holidays.
4 Beguinage "Ten Wijngaerde" (Vineyard) in Bruges *. Dates from 1230. The Beguinage is a group of houses around a little garden, covered with large popular trees. Visitors enter the place via a bridge over the canal. In 1937 the beguinage became a monastery for the Benedictine sisters, who still live here. In the small house besides the gate there is a museum. Open all year.
5 Beguinage Herentals. The beguinage was founded in 1266, destroyed in 1578 and rebuild in 1590. The St. Catharina church was completed in 1614. The former infirmary (the house with number 13) now houses the Beguinage museum. The church and the museum can only be visited with a guide from the town of Herentals. The beguinage is always open for visitors.
6 Beguinage Lier *. This beautiful beguinage dates from the 13th century and is spread out over an area of 2 ha (5 acres) with a total of 162 picturesque houses in 11 streets. The whole is still walled today and the only entrance to this small "city" is a gate from 1690, situated at the end of the Kanunnik Davidlaan entering the Begijnhofstraat.
7 Old St. Elisabeth Beguinage in Ghent. The beguinage from 1234 grew during centuries to a real beguinage town with a church, the house of the Grand lady, an infirmary, an infirmary chapel, 18 convents 1), and 103 individual beguine houses. After 1874, when 600 beguines had moved to the new beguinage in St. Amandsberg, the old beguinage fell into disrepair. From 1984 on partial renovation has been undertaken and today the church, infirmary, infirmary chapel, 12 convents from 18, and 62 houses from 103, give a realistic impression of the former beguinage. 1) A convent was a bigger house where several novices and poor women lived together.
8 Great Beguinage in St. Amandsberg (Ghent) *. The beguinage was built from 1872 - 1875 and is a unique neo-gothic total-concept. Situated around 3 squares and along 8 streets there are 80 houses, 14 convents, a great house, an infirmary, a chapel and a church. The whole domain measures 8 ha (20 acres) and can be entered through 2 gate buildings.
9 Our Lady Ter Hoyen Beguinage (Small Beguinage) in Ghent *. Founded in 1235, most of the actual buildings were built between 1600 and 1700. The Our Lady Ter Hoyen church is situated in the middle of the domain. Further can be found several chapels, the house of the Grand lady, 7 convents and about 100 individual houses. Nowadays the individual houses are inhabited by lay persons and the convents and the infirmary are used as artistic ateliers, and for exhibitions.
10 Great Beguinage in Mechelen *. The in 1286 completed Great beguinage was founded, because the Small beguinage had become too small for the great number of beguines. Originally it was situated outside the city walls. In 1578 all houses of the beguinage were burnt down. From then on the beguines were obliged to live inside the city walls. In the early 1600s the actual Great beguinage was founded inside the city.
11 Small Beguinage in Mechelen. Already in 1207 there was a small beguinage in Mechelen. From the beginning it was situated inside the city walls. That is why it survived the turbulent 1500's. Nowadays the two beguinages in Mechelen are so close near one another, that it would be a pity to visit one and not the other. Needless to say that one should foresee a whole day for this combined visit.
12 Beguinage Diksmuide. Founded in the 13th century, but totally destroyed during the first days of World War I. After the war Diksmuide and the beguinage were restored in original style. Since 1990 there live 20 mentally handicapped adult men and women in a part of the beguinage. They have their own small presents shop.
13 St Alexius Beguinage in Dendermonde *. Founded in 1250 and destroyed by the Geuzen in 1597, most of the 61 brick houses were rebuilt in the 17th century. There is also a chapel, the Beguinage museum, and a museum for folklore. The beguinage can freely be visited all year from 9 AM - 8 PM. The museum from April 1 - October 31 on Tuesdays -Sundays from 9.30 AM - 12.30 PM and from 1.30 PM - 6 PM. The entrance consists of a small passage in the Brusselse straat.
14 Beguinage Diest *. The beguinage from 1253 has been very well preserved, although most of the 90 houses date from the 17th century. Contrary to most "street beguinages", the streets here are large and straight. The infirmary and the Apostelenconvent house nowadays the cultural center of Diest and in other houses artists have installed their ateliers. Open all year, the ateliers often during weekends.
15 Beguinage Aarschot. Founded in 1251, destroyed by fire in 1543 and rebuilt in 1610 - 1671. Partially destroyed again during WW II. Partially rebuilt again. The attics of the left wing house the museum for regional geography and history and folklore. The beguinage is open all year. The museum from Tuesday - Friday from 9 AM - Noon and from 1.30 PM - 4.30 PM.
16 Beguinage Hasselt. Already existed in 1245, but totally destroyed in 1567. Rebuilt from 1707 and again heavily devastated in WW II. Rebuilt again, except the St. Catharina church, of which only one piece of a wall can be seen now. Some buildings house now the fine arts center Z33. Closed on Mondays. Open Tuesdays - Fridays from 10 AM - 5 PM and on Saterdays and Sundays from 2 PM - 5 PM.
17 Beguinage Aalst. This beguinage from 1261 lost a lot of its charme after 1945 when the beguine died and social houses replaced many old beguine houses. Only the convent, the church and the chapel are remained, as well as some houses from 1878 and some houses restored in the 20th century.
18 Small Beguinage in Leuven. This beguinage from 1272 consists of one street and 2 dead end alleys with about 30 houses. The church was dismanteled in 1862 and the infirmary had to disappear in 1954 to make room for the expanding brewery of Stella Artois. Recently the houses are thoroughly restored and sold to private persons. Open to the public all year.
19 Great Beguinage in Leuven *. This beguinage from the 13th century was built outside the city walls at that time. It is one of the biggest beguinages in Flanders with a built-up area of 3 ha (7.5 acres). In 1960 most of the buildings were in a very poor state. In that year the University of Leuven bought the whole complex and restored it in two phases during the 1960 's and 1970 's. Now it is a beautiful "mini-city" in the city of Leuven. The 70 houses are inhabited by students and guest professors of the university. The whole is a series of small streets, small squares, gardens, and parks with tens of houses and convents in traditional brick- and sandstone style. No wonder that this beguinage is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
20 Beguinage Anderlecht. This old beguinage was founded in 1252 for only 8 beguines, but the actual form dates from 1634. The houses are situated around a small square with a dwell. Open all year from 10 AM - Noon and from 2 PM - 5 PM. Closed on Mondays.
21 Beguinage Audenarde (Oudenaarde). This small beguinage with its white painted houses from the 17th century and the chapel from the 16th century form a oasis of tranquility in the city of Audenarde. Free to visit during daytime. The gate closes at 8 PM in the summer and at 6 PM in the winter.
22 St. Agnes Beguinage in St. Truiden *. In the center of this beguinage from 1256, on a big field of grass, is situated the Gothic beguinage church, erected in three phases from the 13th - 16th century. Inside there are 38 wall- and pillar paintings, dating from the 13th - 17th century. There is also a farm and an infirmary. The church can be visited from April October, every day, except Mondays. Opening hours 10 AM - 12.30 PM and from 1.30 PM - 5 PM. On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 1.30 PM - 5 PM.
23 Beguinage Kortrijk *. Founded in 1242, several times destroyed and every time restored, this beguinage with its 42 white houses, the chapels is an oasis of tranquility. The former Grand lady's house is now a beguinage museum.
24 Beguinage Tongeren *. Founded in 1257, this beguinage preserved its enclosure wall until the 19th century. The little winding streets and the alley are all centered around the beautiful St. Catharina church. The beguinage escaped from the Big City Fire in 1677 and now contains the oldest houses of Tongeren.