Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brussels - a commune in Anderlecht



The sun was shining for our second day in Brussels (see our first day here.) Our friends decided to take us to Anderlecht, one of the nineteen municipalities located within Brussels. It is officially bilingual – French and Flemish. There, we were to visit a “béguinage” (French) or “begijnhof” (Flemish) which is a collection of small houses where “béguines” lived centuries ago.



Following a narrow path we entered the museum. A very friendly docent first explained the history of the béguinage to us. During the Middle Ages adult women were expected to live under the care of a man, as wife and mother, or in a convent as a nun. After the Crusades many women were left alone as widows without a man’s protection. Béguinage were set up for them - they were usually within a walled enclosure, close to a church, containing little houses, gardens, etc. These were Catholic lay religious communities. There was no mother-house, nor common general rule, every community of béguines fixed their own living regulations – they were medieval communes, if you will, or a sisterhood. Rich or poor women could enter a béguinage. A béguine was not a nun and took no vows. She did not renounce her property, but could return to the world and wed if she wished.


Portrait of a Béguine, Hans Holbein the Younger, German, 1497-1543

Some béguinage were large, such as the great béguinage in Ghent, Belgium, with thousands living there or small like the béguinage in Anderlecht, where we were visiting. Actually this was the smallest béguinage in Belgium occupied by only eight béguines. The Anderlecht béguinage consists of a collection of small houses built between 1252 and the 18th century. The béguines had direct access to the nearby Church of St. Guidon, built in the 16th century.


Click on collage to enlarge then click on each individual picture

The Béguinage Museum opened in 1938 and documents the life of the béguines. Everything was calm in the garden. The tiny houses with their turquoise windows facing the garden and the well were delightful.




Once inside the little house, we had indeed stepped back in time. There are small rooms including a kitchen




a room for lace-workers



a “bollewinkel” or delicacy store



and a small bedroom.



Then we walked into the left wing which had larger rooms for richer béguines.




We could also see, behind a glass window, a private chapel for the eight beguines. Béguines in the Low Countries were a religious group of women dedicated to charity and chastity but since they existed without men the Church did not approve of them – they had too much freedom and were suspect. Some were persecuted.



I liked looking out of the windows and think of the béguines, imagining them behind those same windows looking outside toward the sunny garden – did they feel entirely safe?




Upstairs, on the second floor there was a baby bed, an old stove, an old game,




other ancient objects that were found during archeological digs



as well as some colorful drawings of life in the area



and paintings without the names of the artists.




There were also some old photographs showing the history of Anderlecht, which is now the westernmost municipality of Brussels and the only one with some rural areas. But I did not take their pictures as we had to leave. I took a last look at the roses in the garden.




Years ago I remember seeing another béguinage, called Begijnhof, in Amsterdam, Holland. It was larger, not a museum, and now is owned by a church.


Begijnhof in Amsterdam, Holland (Wikipedia photo)

The small béguinage of Anderlecht had been fun to visit. This little semi-monastic commune is a little peaceful haven in Brussels, the dynamic European capital. While reading the history of Anderlecht I found out that one of my favorite singers, when I was in France, had lived there. Jacques Brel (1929-1978) a popular francophone singer, lived in Anderlecht from 1942 to 1951 and worked in his parents' factory there from 1946 to 1953. Jacques Brel was one of the greatest songwriters of all time. He wrote many songs, directed and acted. He was a musical genius, really.

Jacques Brel (unknown photo owner)

I remember listening to his songs, again and again. One of his songs “Marieke” was in French and Flemish. I loved that song so much that I decided then, if ever I had a daughter, I would give her that name. Indeed, when my eldest daughter was born in San Francisco, her 3rd name is Marieke. She carries a little bit of Belgium in her.

37 comments:

Sandy said...

Love the song! =)

This is Belgium said...

This is an amazing post about the beauties, some a little more hidden than others, and talented people our little country has produced. It is so funny indeed to read about Anderlecht, the béguinage and begijnhof on a blog which has its headquarters in Atlanta, GA!! I was in Anderlecht on Sunday and will post about it tomorrow but I admit never have visited the béguinage. Isn't often so though that we are less attentive to what is located so very close to where we live?

Vagabonde said...

Sandy – thank you.

This is Belgium – I am so very pleased that you liked my post on Anderlecht since you are in Belgium and know the area well. I am always a little bit afraid talking about foreign countries in case I misrepresent or misunderstand something important. I was delighted to receive your comment.

Pamela said...

Dear Vagabonde: I lived a couple of years in Brussels, but never got to go to this lovely place, I would have loved the béguinage, I don't know why, but this kind of communities really attracts me. It's interesting to know women could take care of theirselves in the Middle Ages! I',m happy to be back realding you

Wanda..... said...

Love the history I have learned from your post and the viewing of such interesting photos of the béguinage living quarters. All the windows and the woodwork of the beds in the richer quarters were extremely beautiful. Lovely post!

Astrid said...

This is a delightful post about the Begijnen, being Dutch I do find some similarities between the two countries.
The house you showed with the blue paint is just beautiful.
Love the speculaas-planken in the Bollewinkel
I have been to the Amsterdam Begijnhof many times, to walk around there in complete silence, not hearing the sounds of the cities is unique, a world on it's own.

Pamela said...

Jacques Brel is a classic, I'll keep listening and listening to his songs and lovely voice!

Friko said...

These communities existed in my part of Germany too; in fact, there is one in a village next door to my home town. The ancient buildings are clustered round the church.

I have never bothered to visit; it's strange, but what we have on our doorstep is rarely of great interest.

rosaria said...

This is all new to me. So glad for this information and historical context. Your trips are always so amazingly narrated. Merci' bien.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Great post with masses of info and some amazing photos. Thanks for sharing. Diane

DJan said...

I had never heard of such a thing, like a sisterhood or community of souls coming together for mutual support. I love the picture of the small bed that reminds me of a child's cradle. I think I would have felt quite secure in that environment. Thank you for enlightening me about this, VB! I am enriched by your research, and your pictures as well.

Ann said...

i enjoyed this post and the photos so very much!!! I always learn something fascinating when I visit!! thank you so much!!

alwaysinthebackrow said...

I did not know of these communities. The buildings with their colorful shutters look very interesting. I may need to find out more about this.

Thanks for sharing it.

Elaine said...

Fascinating history of the beguinage museum. I had not heard of these establishments before, but with so many widows at that time it seems a perfect solution. I always learn a lot from your blog!

Pierre BOYER said...

Superbe !
et très intéressant.
Bel hommage à Brel également...
Je le cite également dans mon blog.
Belle journée,

Pierre

bayou said...

Quel plaisir de lire et voir à travers tes yeux, vagabonde. Brel, dans ses interviews, me rappelle beaucoup mon premier mari, décédé comme Brel, depuis longtemps. C'est ces deux hommes qui m'ont ancré ici en Belgique. Et maintenant, à mon tour, j'ai donné un port à un certain Anglais, qui commence à comprendre ma passion pour ce pays si diversifié. Nous espérons y rester ses hôtes.

Nance said...

I just got off the phone with an insurance salesman who's putting together information packages for me on continuing long term care insurance. I'm horrified by what I've learned so far. Secular beguinage...where do I sign up?

Dedene said...

Learning about béguines was very interesting. I only the word from the current french "béguine" or a crush on someone. I had no idea there was this tradition too.
What a good idea to have communities of women who could live in safety.

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks for this post -- I've always thought the beguinages were a rather nice solution to a problem -- and in today's world where women tend to outlive their men there might be a place for a similar, secular community.

And I ADORE Jacques Brel!

Jeanie said...

That little house is so dear! I love spots like that!

I confess, I never really "thought" of Brussels, but after reading this post and the one a few days back, I think I could be persuaded to hop that train and check it out!

marciamayo said...

Beautiful post, as usual. I almost made to Brussels once, but then someone blew up something somewhere and I was afraid to travel for a while.

Ruth said...

What a gorgeous place. I so love the rustic architecture and furnishings of that time in Europe. I am drawn to it as if I lived then.

I'm quite interested in your question: "did they feel entirely safe?"

Dianne said...

I love all the windows
and the blue trim

the church is magnificent

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I Too LOVE Jacgues Brel....His songs always have such a "build" musically and an intensity in the lyrics that is very moving....Did you ever see "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well"? It was a WONDERFUL review of many many of his songs....It Was FABULOUS!

You always find the most interesting places to visit, wherever you go, my dear....This was amazing and so educational---I was unfamiliar with this whole world of women that was happening all those centuries ago....!

claude said...

Bonjour Vagabonde.
J'ai eu des soucis pour mettre des commentaires toutes la journée d'hier.
Je repasse ce tantôt pour regarder et lire ce post.

Kay said...

This is such a fabulous post! Thank you so much for your hard work in putting it together for us. I love those turquoise doors and shutters too. This is our kind of travel.

Shammickite said...

Ah,,, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well etc etc.... great songs! And I enjoyed reading about the béguinage, something I know very little about.

Today, July 1, is CANADA DAY, Canda's 144th birthday.
Will and Kate are in Ottawa today to help us celebrate, and we are very happy that they have chosen Canada for their first official Royal visit.

Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle... said...

Bonjour Vagabonde-- Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment today. I have enjoyed my tour of the beguinage and have learned a lot. The dedication to le grand Jacques Brel was icing on the cake, or "la cerise sur le gâteau", really ;-) A bientôt. Veronique aka French Girl in Seattle

claude said...

Purée, j'ai oublié de repasser hier après-midi et ce matin je n'arrive pas à obtenir la traduction en Français. Je reviendrai plus tard.

Lonicera said...

What an interesting place - I loved the furniture and the atmosphere. I'd heard of J Brel, but clearly knew diddly squat about him when I looked him in Wiki, and read his biography. A very complex person and a very singular style. I knew Marieke and Ne me quittez Pas, but that's all I'm afraid.
Caroline

Tim said...

I enjoy seeing architecture and interiors of old places.

Olga said...

The colour is exquisite in the windowframes and doors. A great museum, and a tribute to Jacques Brel. I adore him.

Pondside said...

I love Belgium - there is always a 'dip' into Belgium when we are in Europe. This post was full! The stone, the colours of the doors and shutters are all so beautiful. I didn't know anything about béguinages - so interesting.

Shammickite said...

Thank you for your good wishes for Canada's Birthday, yes, everyone had a wonderful time! Lots of eating, drinking and partying and having fun with family and friends. And now it's USA's turn for a birthday. Happy 4th of July to you and your family! Enjoy the fireworks.

Mike and Ann said...

Thank you. That was absolutely fascinating. We spent a weekend in Brussels many years ago attending a wedding, but didn't really have enough time to explore properly. You tempt us to go back.
Regards, Mike and Ann.

Vagabonde said...

Sandy, This is Belgium, Pamela, Wanda, Astrid, Friko, Rosaria, Food Fun and Life in the Charente, DJan, Ann, alwaysinthebackrow, Elaine, Nance, Dedene, Vicki Lane, Jeanie, marciamayo, Ruth, Diane, Old Lady of the Hills, Kay, Shammickite, Lonicera, Tim, Olga, Pondside and Mike and Ann – There is much to see in Belgium. I am pleased that you liked what you saw. I hope that you are having a great summer – enjoying all the Holidays – Canada Day and the 4th of July. Thanks for stopping by.

Pierre Boyer, Bayou, Claude, French Girl - La Belgique est un beau pays où il y a beaucoup à voir. Je suis contente que mon post vous a plu. J’espère que vous aurez un été heureux avec les fêtes du 14 Juillet qui approchent. Amicalement VB

Ginnie said...

As with Astrid, I, too, have seen the Begijnhof in Amsterdam several times. It's perhaps the best I have ever visited and full of gevelstenen, which I love. We try to see others when we're on our photo hunts because they really are special.

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