Whence vrouwstraat? – Part 2

Mon. 08 Nov 2010. 2:02 pm

As we saw previously, Flavia was listed as being born on vrouwstraat in Ghent; and vrouwstraat seems to translate in English to “Women[‘s] Street”. Then there was the multiple locations in Flanders for a “Onze Lieve Vrouwestraat” or ““Our Lady Street”. Is it possible there is some sort of a connection as far as the Peolman’s, and we, are concerned?

In the city of Ghent there are four locations that may have a connection. The first is Vrouwebroersstraat.

I believe Vrouwebroersstraat translates into “Women and Brother’s Street”. On this street “is [the] former convent of the Carmelites… [but] since the French occupation [in 1745] , the building is no longer in use as a monastery….” The area became the dilapidated homes for worker’s and their families. If you want you can click hear to learn more about the Carmelites.

Now the next three locations are all similar in that they are known as the béguinage.

Ok so what is a Béguinage? A quick definition from Wikipedia is

[a] Béguinage is a collection of small buildings used by Beguines, which were several lay sisterhoods of the Roman Catholic Church, founded in the 13th century in the Low Countries, of religious women who sought to serve God without retiring from the world.


New religious movements, reacting against béguinage abuses and moral decay, became widespread in Western Europe in the 12th and 13th century. They emphasized a sober, simple and virtuous life. The beguine movement has its origin in this context. At first beguines were religious women who lived independently in town béguinage and devoted themselves to nursing the sick. In 1216 they were authorized to form communities and thus béguinages arose as a typical phenomenon of cities. Social and economic factors, as well as religious motives, contributed to the way the beguine movement flourished.

The life of the beguines was basically religious. Apart from religious services and communal or private prayers, holy devotion to the saints also played an important role. Mystical experiences of all kinds were an inspiration in the spiritual life of most beguines. The love mystic Hadewych and Beatrijs van Nazareth played an important role in the popular literature of the 13th century. Beguines did not pledge a vow of poverty and could keep personal belongings. Often they worked for a living in the textile industry; spinning, weaving or bleaching. Later they mainly did needlework, embroidery and lace making.

Every béguinage reflects the lifestyle of these devoted women. Usually the béguinage lies at the edge of town and is surrounded by a wall. Inside are several squares and streets along which the buildings and the gardens are arranged. The church lies in the centre of the close, always with an infirmary nearby. In large béguinages the infirmary has its own chapel. Close to the infirmary is the house of the “Grand lady”, the community leader in charge of the béguinage. Communal dwellings, or convents, were also typical. These would house novices and the less wealthy beguines, providing a space to work and live under the leadership of the convent mistress. Once a beguine was accepted into the community she was allowed, if she had the financial resources, to buy or rent a house in the close of the béguinage. After her death the house would return to the community. In addition, a béguinage would have a gate building, a pestilence house, stables, a poultry house, a brewery, gardens and meadows. The priest’s house was just outside the close.

Although there is no real proof, traditionally 1234 is accepted as the founding year of the two oldest béguinages in Ghent. The oldest document pertaining to the Saint Elisabeth béguinage dates from 1242 and in the case of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Hooie béguinage no sources are known before 1262. Shortly before 1278 a third Ghent béguinage, Saint-Aubertus at Poortakker, was founded. ~Source

On a map the three locations for the béguinages in Ghent are

  1. Saint Elisabeth
  2. Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Hooie
  3. Saint-Aubertus at Poortakker

More to come.


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