Among the beguines were celebrated spiritual writers and mystics, including Mechthild of Magdeburg, Beatrijs of Nazareth, Hadewijch of Brabant, and Marguerite Porete, who was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake in Paris in 1310. She was not the only beguine suspected of heresy, and often politics were the driving force behind such charges. Certain clerics defended beguines against charges of heresy, while other women had to go undercover by joining a Benedictine or Cistercian monastery.
Amazingly, many beguine communities survived for a long time despite oppression, wars, the plague, and other human and natural disasters. Beguines lived throughand helped propeltimes of great transition and reform. Beguines courageously spoke to power and corruption, never despairing of God s compassion for humanity. They used their business acumen to establish and support ministries that extended education, health care, and other social services to the vulnerable. And they preached and taught of a loving God who desired a relationship with each individual person while calling to reform those who used God s name for personal gain.
What strength of spirit protected the lives of these women and their beguinages? What can we learn from them? What might they teach us? The beguines have much to say to our world today. This book invites us to listen to their voices, to discover them anew.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-09-29
- Reviewer: Staff
The lay religious movement known as the Beguines had largely been forgotten until the late 20th century, when feminist scholars rediscovered their lives. Swan (Sacred Rhythms) brings their lives and writings to the general reader with a clear, admiring narrative. The movement began in the Low Countries during the late 12th century, when some lay women began to live together and earn their own living, while devoting themselves to preaching and caring for the poor. Adhering to an individual concept of apostolic Christianity, they were viewed with suspicion because of their independence from the rule of any religious order. Swan intersperses her story of the Beguines with short biographies of several of the women who wrote or dictated their mystical experiences. Strong supporters of the growing desire for “deeply personal experiences of God,” they tried to share the suffering of Jesus. This could take the form of visions, stigmata, and even levitation, as in the case of Christina the Astonishing. Despite criticism, they had powerful clerical and secular supporters and managed to survive through plagues, revolutions, and even the Protestant Reformation. Swan doesn’t go into historical or theological depth, but her book is a sympathetic look at the Beguines that will intrigue anyone interested in women’s spirituality. (Dec.)