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A City Within A City:
Le Beguinage de Brugge

Dorothy Riera

It was early afternoon on a sunny breezy day in Brugge. People were strolling through the streets of one of the oldest medieval cities in Europe. Set upon the Flemish countryside and surrounded by countless canals, Brugge is often referred to as the "Venice of the North." It is a cobblestone city filled with religion, tradition and history.

The Market Place is the most important square of the town. Here the economic, social and political life of the city is determined. The Basilica of the Holy Blood was erected during the 12th Century. It is believed to guard the Holy Blood of Jesus brought back from Jerusalem during the Crusades. The Church of "Notre Dame" is a unique Gothic monument and among its treasures one can admire the marble masterpiece by Michelangelo - "Our Lady and the Infant."

Convent But, what interested me the most was the "Beguinage." It is a simple place, yet majestic in scope. It is a mystical place full of solace, and it plunges its visitors into times long past, yet ever present, enveloping them in an extraordinary atmosphere. It is here where past and present meet in a unique harmony.

"Le Beguinage" is a small village within the village. It is surrounded by an enormous wall. The entrance is marvelously carved in stone and bears the words "Sauvegarde" over the threshold. Ever since the Middle Ages this has been a protected place giving asylum to anyone in need. Upon entering one encounters an ancient wooden crucifix with the inscription "the Christ of the dying sinners." Surrounding the crucifix texts are engraved such as: "you who go by, detain yourself and see if there is a greater pain than mine."

The Beguinage has been a house to many woman throughout the centuries. These are special woman, pious and exceptional, who led an apostolic life in a fashion generally chosen by themselves.

During the early Middle Ages, the "beguines" (the name probably given to some women who dressed in gray robes) were women who were alone and frequently met in an abandoned terrain. Ever slowly, they became isolated and developed this village for themselves. Throughout the centuries and many conquests, this haven has withstood adversity. Here prayer, solitude and meditation have triumphed over indifference, war and turbulence.

Nun in Courtyard It is unimaginable to find such a place in this world of ours. Yet, the work of Jesus Christ continues. His presence is ever felt and lauded. Out of another era one can be mesmerized by the Benedictine Sisters, still garbed in brown veils and habits. Since 1927 they have been the inhabitants of this ancient enclosure.

Throughout the centuries different souls have come and gone in the midst of the Beguinage. Echoes of lost times fill the air and the hopes of times to come permeate their daily lives. These are the women of the Beguinage. They are dedicated, impoverished, and they have withstood the changes of our world. They remain faithful to their God, they have stood tall and they have never ceased to give the greatest gift of all - they have never ceased to love. And so today "Sauvegarde" continues to embrace each one that passes through its threshold. The unending memories of the past converge with the present. One is filled with elation knowing God's unyielding work and his everlasting majesty continues through the women of the "Beguinage."

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