Academic journal article Magistra

Labels and Libels: Naming Beguines in Northern Medieval Europe

Academic journal article Magistra

Labels and Libels: Naming Beguines in Northern Medieval Europe

Article excerpt

Labels and Libels: Naming Beguines in Northern Medieval Europe, ed. Letha Böhringer, Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane, and Hildo van Engen. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2014. 235 pp., $104, ISBN 978-2-503-55135-7.

This is an excellent study of, literally, the naming of beguines. From my perspective this volume brings a much needed corrective to some scholarship of recent decades that limited possibilities for diverse expressions of beguine lifestyles.

The book is a series of general studies along with three case studies - Paris, Cologne, and Würzburg - of a movement of medieval (mostly) women who followed a lifestyle seeking to imitate the life of the apostle, the vita apostolica. "Beguine" was only one of many names, usually local in derivation, for women who did not enter monasteries but rather created for themselves a life of prayer and service, sometimes living with parents, sometimes with fellow beguines, and sometimes in the great court beguinages. Profound simplicity or poverty, penance, a devotion to the suffering Christ, deepening one's own inner life of faith, dedication to educating children and adults in their faith, and challenging clergy to live up to their call (that is, ending greed and corruption, and improving their capabilities in preaching) were common elements among these women. While names varied, their contemporaries agreed that "they were the same phenomena by a different name. …

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