Published in DASH #05 - The Urban Enclave
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Groot Begijnhof


From the thirteenth century communities for unmarried women began to develop in a number of cities in the Low Countries. These begijnhoven, or beguinages, offered a safe haven for beguines, or women who wished to live a devout, chaste life, under the authority of the church, yet without the bonds of monastic vows. Such communities provided their members with mutual support in times of poverty or disease. Rich women had their own houses, while the less well-off lived together in a single dwelling known as a convent. The first beguinages were built outside cities, within their own protective walls. Later, communities were built inside city walls or brought within these walls by city expansion. Beguinages had their own church and an infirmary or hospital; larger communities had a shelter for indigent beguines, the Table of the Holy Spirit (also the name of the special fund, or dole, to support needy members of the community), attached to the infirmary…