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