Béguinages, scattered across Northern Europe, are architecturally distinct and completely urban planned groups of homes where single women in the late 1100’s began living together communally to live a holy life. The Béguines, as the women were called, grew out of a religious enthusiasm that was sweeping the church in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Prayer and contemplation marked by mysticism undergirded the Béguines’ charitable good works, especially hospital work and care for the sick and poor.
In Bruges, the fifteenth century Saint John Hospital is today a museum, and the Béguinage is guarded and preserved by the Benedictine sisters. In 1922, it was a farsighted move to combine the remaining Béguines and the Benedictines, as this is the only Béguinage with continuous prayer and religious life for 800 years!