Monday, March 21, 2011

Begin the Béguinage

In a country where it rains often, a clear day feels like a blessing.

It was still chilly, still winter coat weather, though I didn't need a hat.

This was my last Friday on the Belgian tour. I walked across town to my friend Christine's house for lunch and then we set out in her car for Leuven.

I wrote earlier about how the French and the Flemish split the Catholic University of Louvain in the 60s. The Flemish stayed in the old city of Leuven, while the French built Louvain-la-Neuve from scratch in the middle of a field. I vaguely remember going dancing with friends in Leuven as a student.

Christine wanted to show me the Grand Béguinage of Leuven. I knew the Cole Porter song Begin the Beguine, but that's completely different. I wonder what the Béguines would think about the dance of the same name, a slow rumba.

The Grand Béguinage is a historical quarter that housed the Béguines, a community of unmarried women who were not nuns but who carried out good works and lived a life of religious contemplation. This community began in the 13th century, with its height during the 17th century. The last Belgian Béguine (say that five times fast) died in 2008. The church--and men in general--had no authority over these well-organized communities of women, so clerics were nervous about them. Women did not have to renounce their property and they could leave at any time.

The Béguinage is a lovely, quiet area.

Cloistered, yet not a cloister.

Christine hates to have her picture taken, as you can tell.

The Dijle river forms two canals surrounding the Béguinage.

I love all the patterns in this picture!

Little half-chick up there was brilliant against the blue sky.

This was part of the door of the church, which was not open for visitors. Looks a bit forbidding!

There's plenty of work for an industrious brickmason here.

As you can see, everything is pristine.

I don't know what the initials in the cobblestones stood for.

There were saints' niches in many of the buildings.

This seal of the university has been used by both the French and the Flemish for hundreds of years. Christine told me that the French have begun using a different one.

The university now owns the Béguinage as part of its campus, primarily for student and visitor housing. No, there are no loud parties, no frisbees on the lawn, no sunbathing.

There are, however, plenty of bicycles.


Sayed said...

Thank you for the guided tour. It looks like a place I would like to visit when I am in the neighborhood. You look great in that picture. I like the smile.

MADeWH said...

I've visited the beguinages in Ghent and Maastricht; for some reason, I've never gotten off the train in Leuven. They certainly are lovely, placid places.

Anonymous said...

These photos show another world - it looks like a peaceful place. But there is that stack of faces on the church; the bottom one is anything but encouraging! I am savoring the photos and the words that go with them. Thanks!