Beguinage or Begijnhoven are clusters of small houses surrounded by a protective wall and build around a central garden and church. They were build in the Low Countries in the 12th century by Beguines, a Catholic order of unmarried or widowed women. The order was established largely due to the gender imbalance caused by the Holy Land Crusades. With little prospect of marriage, some single women joined forces and set up religious communities that adhered to vows of obedience and chastity but not, unlike nuns, poverty. The women were often from wealthy families and devoted their time to caring for the elderly and the sick, and to work such as making lace. Their communities were independent and the women earned their living from making textiles and from benefactors who would pay the Beguines to pray for them.
At the start of the 20 century there were about 1500 Beguines in Belgium but the order has now virtually dies out. Flanders' many begijnhoven still exist and are lived in by ordinary people. In 1998 Unesco added 14 of the countries begijnhoven to its World Heritage List.
The best-preserved and most beautiful are those in Dieset, Bruges, and Kortrijk.
The Antwerp Beguinage
The 16th-century Beguinage or Begijnhof was a medieval housing complex for women who devoted themselves to prayer and charitable works, but did not care for the constrains of a convent. The “nuns” no longer live here anymore, but the atmosphere is still very particular.
Most Flemish towns have them. All the Begijnhofs in Belgium have been automatically put on the list World Heritage List - funny enough the World Heritage List doesn’t mention this one.
This simple and secluded community of whitewashed houses grouped around cobbled courtyards and a beautiful inner garden.
It is seldom visited by tourists - Maybe because it’s easy to miss - you’ll have to look for it in the student’s area.
Originally, it was out side the city center. But as the city expanded, it became surrounded by buildings and today most people (even Antwerpians) don’t know of its existence.
It is in a small alley - just around the corner from where you can hear the students ‘studying’. The Begijnhof is concealed by a brick wall - The entrance is at Rodestraat 39. Once you enter you immediately you’ll find your self in an oasis of silence. This Begijnhof goes back to 1234. Most of the current buildings are built in the 16th century though.
Begijnhof Cool Facts:
• One of the oldest in Belgium
• On the World Heritage List - along with the Cathedral and the Plantin-Moretus museum
• The well-kept gardens are great photo opportunities
Return from the Beguinage to Antwerp Attractions