Case Studies - Beguinages - The Netherlands

Case study: Begijnhof, Sittard, The Netherlands

 

Type of institution for collective action

Beguinages

Name/description institution  

Begijnhof 

Country 

The Netherlands

Region

Province of Limburg

Name of city or specified area

Sittard

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

 

The beguinage was destroyed during the eighteenth century, and its exact location is somewhat of a debate. Probably it was situated on the south end of the Begijnenstraat, on the west side, cornering the Limbrichterstraat and the Begijnenhofstraat.


For location on Google Maps, click here.

Patron saint

Unknown.

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

1276

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

Confirmed. Since the foundaction act mentions the re-founding of the beguinage, the beguinage may have existed even before 1276.

Foundation act present?

Yes.

Description of Act of foundation

Foundation act. The document entails a permission to re-establish the beguinage and confirms the statutes of the beguines.

Year of termination of institution

Before 1584? See also underneath.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

Estimated.

Act regarding termination present?

No.

Description Act of termination

N/a.

Reason for termination?

Not clear. Van Luyn estimates that the beguinage was terminated as such already before 1584. The building of the beguinage was destroyed in the seventeenth or eighteenth century; possibly in a fire that destroyed much of Sittard in 1677.

Recognized by local government?

Yes; one of the benefits the beguines received was the exemption of city taxes, as mentioned in their foundation act. The city council thus seemed to have protected the ladies of the beguinage.

Concise history of institution

From the founding act of the beguinage it becomes clear that the beguines were living in a house (domus) at the time of their first official mention. The beguinage, therefore, was quite small, and the ladies must have shared their living areas.

 

There is no further mentioning of the beguines during the sixteenth century. Only in 1584 there is a mention of the beginhauss which, at that time, is no longer an actual beguinage. Van Luyn draws the conclusion that the beguinage must have kept some of its function during the sixteenth century, by offering a habitat for unmarried women, orphans and widows.

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

  • 1276: Founding by lady of Montjoie
  • 1329: First beguine is mentioned by name: Mechtild. She had an income from a rent placed on a house on the market square in Sittard. This rent went to the chapel after Mechtild passed. Fifteen years later another rent was granted to Mechtild, which was also inherited by the chapel.

Membership

Numbers of members (specified)

None available from sources.

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

There has been mention of a second beguinage, founded in 1411, one that was set up for poor beguines. The municipal council received an inheritance from Lord Huprecht and his wife Kathrijne who left their house and a rent-charge as an inheritance for five poor beguines. These women would be appointed by the mayor, the aldermen, and the master of the hospital of Sittard, in accordance with the pastor. The difference with the earlier mentioned beguinage is that the authorities had much more to say about this one, and that the beguines that were professed were poor.

 

The Obituarium, or the death records, mentions three beguines by name; this is an indication of their relative wealth, because being mentioned in an obituarium was something reserved for benefactors of the beguinage.

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

The beguines were obliged to contribute to the beguinage, which indicates that they had to have some estate.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

When a beguine was living her life in a promiscuous way (‘mit offenbare fame mit mannen’), she could be expelled.

Advantages of membership?

The communal life would have entailed some benefits for single women in the Middle Ages. The fact that their estate was left in their own possession made the beguinages an attractive option compared to convents.

Obligations of members?

The foudation act contained the statutes of the beguinage:

 

  • Relatives of the beguines could only be allowed to enter the beguinage after consulting with the other beguines; the mistress (magistra) and the convent needed to grant permission.
  • If a beguine wanted to leave the beguinage she could no longer have part in the beguinage or anything that belonged to it. Also, any contributions she had made to the maintenance of the house would not be returned.
  • When a beguine knew she would pass away within a short period, she was not allowed to leave her house – mansion – to another beguine without the permission of the mistress and the convent of the house.
  • Furthermore, the women had to take  a vow (temporary, not eternal) of obedience to their mistress and a vow of chastity.

 

Literature on case study

  • Van Luyn, P.B.N., 1995. Begijnhuis en Begijnstraat. In: Historisch Jaarboek voor het Land van Zwentibold, ed. Stichting Historisch Jaarboek voor het Land van Zwentibold, 14-36.

Sources on case study

  • Euregionaal Historisch Centrum Sittard-Geleen
    • Bestuursarchief Gemeente Sittard,  1243-1794, toegang 163, inv. nr. 1238: Foundation act with statutes.
  • Regionaal Historisch Centrum Limburg (Maastricht) (on second beguinage)
    • Archief van het Kapittel van Sint Pieter te Sittard, toegang 14B004, inv.nr. 7: Cartularium, regest 16.

Links to further information on case study:

-

Case study composed by

Data collection: Aart Vos, Municipal archive (Stadsarchief) 's Hertogenbosch

Text: Winny Bierman, Utrecht University