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The Beguines

The witness of the Beguines of Northeastern Europe is the wit­ness of a move­ment of women. In fact some scholars have called the growth of Beguine spirituality, which began in the 12th century and retains some vestiges to this day, “the first women’s movement.” Individual Beguines such as Hadewijch of Brabant, Mechtilde of Magdeburg and Marie D’Oignies gained promi­nence for their scholar­ship, spiritual leadership and ecstatic experiences of God. More striking perhaps is the fact that the Beguine movement provided a way for many European Chris­tian women, poor and wealthy alike, to re­spond to the signs of their times and to their own spiritual needs and calling. They did so in a way that both shaped and threatened the structures that governed women’s religious lives. It was a movement that reflected the growing need among lay people for lives of spiritual meaning and religious action, as well as self-determination. In its far-reaching in­fluence and its struggle can be seen the move­ment of God’s own Spirit.

Essay and Prayer by Barbara Ballenger