The Flemish Beguinage : privacy, piety and the city

Hawley, Catherine (2015) The Flemish Beguinage : privacy, piety and the city. Scroope: Cambridge Architecture Journal, 24, pp. 82-95. ISSN (print) 0966-1026


An essay in Scroop 24: Future Domestic, Autumn 2015, entitled The Flemish Béguinage; Privacy, Piety and the City. Inscribed into the urban grain of many Northern European towns and cities are some particular and intriguing figures. Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Leuven, and Turnhout—each has its own béguinage or begijnhof. Dating from the thirteenth century onwards, the larger urban ensembles, sometimes termed ‘court’ béguinages, are within the region of Flanders. The UNESCO listing of the Flemish béguinages cites their value as exemplars of medieval concepts of urban development, which were widespread internationally and preserved in these miniature cities intact; they were small towns within towns, set apart from urban life. The béguinages were enclosed communities of single women, often widows of frequent European wars, gathered together for security—spiritual, physical and financial. This essay examines the urban, social and political background of these ensembles considering in detail their material form and expression.

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