Case Studies - Beguinages - The Netherlands

Begijnhof, Haarlem, The Netherlands

   

Type of institution for collective action

Beguinage

Name/description institution  

Begijnhof

Country 

The Netherlands

Region

Province of Noord-Holland

Name of city or specified area 

Haarlem

Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

Beguinage was situated at the location of the house, courtyard, garden, and orchard of the priest Arent van Sassenheim (later to become the first priest of the beguinage), who donated these possessions to the beguines in 1262. This orchard was lying behind the Grote Kerk, bordered by both the Jansstraat and the Bakenessergracht.

Surface area and boundaries

See above and map beneath. The beguinage consisted of 56 houses and 5 convents.

 

 

Map of the location and buildings of the Begijnhof at Haarlem. Source: Monumentenzorg Haarlem. Click on image for larger version.

 

The beguinage also owned, as a result of donations and legacies, several pieces of land throughout the Low Countries. They were not actually used by the beguinage itself, the beguinage however, being the formal owner, enjoyed the revenues of those estates, such as land rents and tithes.

Patron Saint

Saint Martin

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

c. 1262

Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?

First mentioning of the presence of beguines in Haarlem, mentioned in deed of priest Arent van Sassenheim, donating the property of his house, courtyard, garden, and orchard to the beguines living in Haarlem. Hence, it appears that there were already beguines living in Haarlem before 1262.

Foundation act present?

Yes.

Description of Act of foundation

Deed of priest Arent van Sassenheim, donating the property of his orchard to the beguines living in Haarlem

Year of termination of institution

There was no formal end of the beguinage as institution. However, with the death of the last beguine living at the beguinage (Anna Barbara Amstenraad, died April 7, 1824 at the age of 86), the beguinage could no longer be considered to be a beguinage in the strict sense of the word.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

Confirmed date. 

Act regarding termination present?

 

No. See above.

Description Act of termination

See above.

Reason for termination?

From the end of the seventeenth century on, the number of beguines decreased, while hardly any new novices presented themselves to be admitted. With the death of the last beguine living at the beguinage (Anna Barbara Amstenraad, died April 7, 1824 at the age of 86), the beguinage could no longer be considered to be a beguinage in the strict sense of the word.

Recognized by local government?

Yes. Protection of the beguinage was guaranteed by both the Count of Holland and Zeeland (Count Albrecht I of Bavaria) and the municipal government of Haarlem (1356, promise renovated in 1389 and 1408). The power of appointing the priest of the beguinage was the privilege of the Count of Holland and Zeeland until the Count abdicated this power to the beguines themselves in 1401. In 1404, privileges of beguinage were officially recognized by the Bishop of Utrecht.

Concise history of institution

In 1262, the priest of the Grote Kerk of Haarlem, Arent van Sassenheim, donated the property rights of his house, courtyard, garden and orchard to the beguines living in Haarlem. From the content of the deed, it seems these beguines were already living in Haarlem before 1262. In 1263, the former properties of the priest were transformed into a beguinage and the construction of the church of the beguinage was started.

 

A great city fire in 1347 destroyed a major part of the church of the beguinage. As of 1348, services could be held again in a small part of the church already restored; the restauration of the church was not completed until 1398.

 

During the fourteenth century, the Count of Holland and Zeeland was not only a formal protector of the beguinage, but also enjoyed the sole privilege of appointing the priest of the beguinage. In 1401, Count Albrecht I of Bavaria abdicated this right and transferred this privilege to the congregation of the Haarlem beguines. From 1401 on, the beguines had the privilege of electing the priest of the beguinage themselves.

 

In 1576, a great city fire destroyed a large part of the inner city of Haarlem, including most of the houses of the beguinage. Only one house and the church of the beguinage  survived the fire and are the only remains of the original beguinage (i.e. dating from before the fire of 1576) still to be found at the former location of the beguinage.  Tweo years later, the Alteration in Haarlem reached its peak. The possessions of Catholic institutions at Haarlem, impounded by the Estates General, were donated by the Estates General to the municipal government of the City of Haarlem, in order to serve as compensation for the losses the city of Haarlem suffered due to the Siege of Haarlem by the Spanish (1572-3).

 

As a result of the Alteration, on April 24th, 1581, the possessions of the beguinage fell to the municipal government. The church of the beguinage was closed instantly, only to be re-opened again in 1590, after being commissioned to the Walloon Church. The beguines however were allowed to remain living in their own houses, regardless whether the house was owned by either the beguine herself or the beguinage before the Alteration. The municipal government provided for the payment of pensions to the beguines.

 

The Alteration did, however, not put an end to the existence of the Haarlem beguinage. By acquiring new houses at the former Lange Poort, the beguines managed to be able to continue admitting new novices and therefore to ensure the survival of the beguinage as instution throughout time.

 

The decrease of the number of novices in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries affected the beguinage of Haarlem severely. The existence of the beguinage as such ended with the death of the last beguine, Anna Barbara Amstenraad, aged 86, on April 7, 1824.

 

After the death of the last beguine, the houses of the beguinage were converted into regular houses. On the premises of the former beguinage, a new Catholic church was built (Church of Saint Joseph, built in 1841-3 and consecrated in 1843). Nowadays, the remaining houses of the former beguinage form the central part of the Haarlem red light district.

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

  • 1262: Donation of house, courtyard, garden and orchard by priest Arent van Sassenheim to the beguines of Haarlem.
  • 1263: Start of construction first church of beguinage.
  • 1348: After a significant part of the church burnt down during the great city fire of Haarlem of 1347, restauration of the church started, lasting until 1398.
  • 1356: First declaration by both Count Albrecht I of Bavaria (Count of Holland and Zeeland) and the municipal government of Haarlem to guarantee the protection of the Haarlem beguinage (renovated 1389 and 1408).
  • 1381: Foundation of the Convent of Saint Lucia (Sint Lucienconvent) at the beguinage by Machteld Hughe de Roeper.
  • c. 1390: Foundation of the Convent of Saint Barbara (Sint Barberenconvent) at the beguinage by Ym Jan Pieterszoondochter.
  • 1401: Count Albrecht I of Bavaria abdicated his privilege of appointing the priest of the beguinage; the beguines from then on enjoyed the privilige to elect the priest by themselves.
  • 1404: Recognition of privileges of the beguinage by the Bishop of Utrecht.
  • bef. 1405: Foundation of the Convent of Saint Agnes (Sint Agnietenconvent) at the beguinage by Alijt, daughter of Hugo Goutsmit (priest of the beguinage).
  • 1410: Surface area of the beguinage was expanded significantly.
  • 1576: Large city fire destroyed all houses of the beguinage but one, also church was saved.
  • 1581: As a result of the Alteration, the possessions of the beguinage fell to the municipal government; church was closed and handed over to the Walloon Church in 1590.
  • 17th century: beguines acquiring new houses, thus ensuring the surival of the beguinage.
  • April 7, 1824: death of last beguine of the beguinage, actual end of the beguinage as such.

Membership

Numbers of members (specified)

Numbers of beguines are known from various sources:

  • 1401: 13 beguines receive the privilege, granted by Count Albrecht I of Bavaria, of electing the priest of the beguinage.
  • 15th century: the total amount of beguines living at the beguinage is estimated at about 90 (about 50 living in the houses of the beguinage, about 40 living in the convents; Kan 1997, 22).
  • 1582: the municipal governent of Haarlem will provide for the payment of pensions for 55 beguines.
  • 1663 - 1692 : 60 new members applied, 67 novices were professed.
  • 1694: a number of 37 beguines (including two mistresses of the beguinage (meesteressen)) has been mentioned.
  • 1824: death of last beguine at the age of 86.

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

The beguinage at Haarlem admitted novices regardless of their financial status. Beguines who had ample financial resources of their own, usually owned their own house at the beguinage (after having lived at one of the convents for at least two years). The poor beguines together with the novices lived within the respective convents of Saint Gertrud (Sint Geertruytsconvent), Saint Agnes (Sint Agnietenconvent), Saint Lucia (Sint Lucienconvent), and Saint Barbara (Sint Barberenconvent). The mistresses of the beguinage were living in the Convent of Saint Agatha (Sint Aachtenconvent).

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

To become a beguine, each novice had to pass some phases:

  • after living at the convent for 1,5 year, a novices received a letter from the municipal government, recognizing her status (faliebrief) as being a 'beguine by statute' ('verwillecoerde begijn')
  • after living at the convent for 2 years, the novice was entitled, in case she had sufficient financial resources, to buy a house of her own at the beguinage
  • after living at the beguinage for 5 years, the novice could be professed and could be accepted as being a full beguine ('ontfanghen beghijn')

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

Disrespecting the rules, inobedience to the mistresses of the beguinage, and indecent or improper behavior could  all in its way be the cause for banishing the novice or beguine from the beguinage.

Advantages of membership?

  • Beguines only pledged the vows of chastity and obedience; they did not pledge the vow of poverty. Therefore, they were entitled to remain in possession of their own financial resources.
  • Also, the vows of the beguines were not perpetual. Although al large part of the beguines will have lived up to their vows all their life, the vows formally only applied to the time they would be living at the beguinage. Beguines were allowed to part the beguinage to be married or out of free will.

Obligations of members? 

The principal vows of beguines were the vows of chastity and obedience (the latter especially referring to the obedience to the mistresses of the beguinage). 

Literature on case study

  • Kan, K.J. 1997. De geestelijke instellingen te Haarlem gedurende de Middeleeuwen. Haarlem (especially pp. 17-22).
  • Koorn, F.W.J. 1981. Begijnhoven in Holland en Zeeland gedurede de Middeleeuwen. Assen : Van Gorcum.
  • Verhoofstad, P.M. 1959. Inventaris der archieven van kerken, kloosters en staties berustend in het Archiefdepot van het Bisdom van Haarlem. Haarlem : Drukkerij S. Jacobs-Godshuis.

Sources on case study

  • Provincial Archive of Noord-Holland (Noord-Hollands Archief)
    • Archief Bisdom Haarlem betreffende staties en kloosters te Haarlem (toegang 2106). For full inventory (in Dutch only), click here
      • Inv.nr. 331, Brief van hertog Aelbrecht van Beyeren, waarbij het recht van de pastoorskeuze wordt verleend aan 13 begijnen dd. 1401
      • Inv.nr. 334, Akte van toekenning van een jaarlijks pensioen aan 55 begijnen door de regering van de stad Haarlem, 1582
      • Inv.nr. 36, Brief door de Infante Isabella tot de pastoor gericht, betreffende de wijze, waarop de begijnen zullen worden aangenoemen en haar professie zullen doen, 1602

Links to further information on case study:

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Case study composed by

Aart Vos, Stadsarchief 's-Hertogenbosch (inventarisation of data)

René van Weeren, Utrecht University (text)

 

 

 

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