What could a lay woman from the 12th century possibly have in common with a lay woman in 2018? A movement of women called Beguines, writes Lee-Ann Wein. Source: Aurora Magazine.
Beguines were committed lay women who chose an alternative to marriage or religious life, from the 12th century until quite recent times, mostly in Europe.
They lived simple, contemplative lives of service. They made personal vows or promises rather than the canonical vows that married women or nuns make. Initially they lived alone or in small communities. Their numbers grew and for safety they lived in large communities called Beguinages. By the 15th century one of these Beguinages housed 2000 women.
The Church in the middle ages was wealthy and powerful with little outreach to the poor. A large part of Beguine life was living the vita apostolica ‒ apostolic life ‒ in caring for the socially marginalised, the sick and the destitute. These women were the first nurses, midwives and teachers. They were often called on to sit with the dying, prepare the body for burial and attend the funeral. They cared for lepers and created the first hospices. In the large Beguinages they had The Table of the Holy Spirit, which was similar to our Vinnies outreach. They took particular care of women.
Five years ago, I came to live at the Benedictine Abbey at Jamberoo, New South Wales, and work in the Sisters’ candle-making business. At that time, I read Laura Swan’s Book The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement and found it fascinating.
After reading it again recently, I felt I had found some kindred spirits. I wondered if it were possible that I could be one of these women.
Before his episcopal ordination, Wollongong Bishop Brian Mascord made a retreat here at the Abbey. After listening to him describe the deep trust it took for him to say “Yes”, I felt inspired to follow what I was hearing within me and begin a discussion with the Abbey community.
The community is open to supporting new expressions of commitment within the Church, and has chosen to stand with me in my commitment to become a Beguine.
Holding the light for others (Aurora Magazine)