a female association in the Roman Church. The origin of loth the name and the association is doubtful. A Belgian writer in the beginning of the 13th century derives it from a priest of Liege, Lambert le Begue. Later some beguinages traced their origin to St. Begga, daughter of Pipin of Landen, though without historical grounds. Other writers have derived the name from beggen, to beg, though the Beguines have never been mendicants. A document found in the 17th century at Vilvorde dates the establishment of a beguinage at 1056, and seems to overthrow the hypothesis of priest Lambert being their founder; but more thorough investigations have proved it to be spurious. The pretended higher age of some German beguinages rests on their being confounded with similar institutions.
The Beguines, whose number at the beginning of the thirteenth century amounted to about 1500, spread rapidly over the Netherlands, France, and Germany. There were often as many as 2000 sisters in their beguinages (beguinagiae, beguinariae), occupying in couples a small separate house. A hospital and church form the central points of the beguinage. The Beguines support themselves, and also furnish the chest of the community, and the support of the priests, the officers, and the hospitals, by their own industry. The president of a beguinage is called magistra, and is assisted by curators or tutors, usually mendicant friars. The vows are simple, viz., chastity and obedience to the statutes; and any beguine can be freed by leaving the community, after which she is at liberty to marry. As to dress, each beguinage chooses its particular color, brown, gray, or blue, with a white veil over the head. Black has become their general color, and to their former habit is added a cap in the shape of an inverted shell, with a long black tassel. The association made itself useful by receiving wretched females, by nursing the sick, and by educating poor children. In Germany they were therefore called soul-women. Like all the monastic orders, their community was invaded by great disorders, and the synod of Fritzlar in 1244 forbade to receive any sister before her fortieth year of age. Many were also drawn into the heresies of the Fraticelli, and the whole community had to atone for it by continued persecution. Clement V, on the council of Vienna, in 1311, decreed by two bulls the suppression of the Beguines and Beghards infected with heresy; but John XXII explained these bulls as referring merely to the heretical Beghards and Beguines, and interfered in favor of the orthodox Beguines in Germany (1318) and Italy (1326). The Reformation put an end to nearly all the beguinages in Germany and Switzerland; but all the larger towns of Belgium except Brussels have still beguinages, the largest of which is that at Ghent, which in 1857 counted about 700 inmates. — Mosheim, De Beghardis et Beguinabus (Lipsiae, 1790); Hallmann, Geschichte des Ursprunges der Belgischen Beguinen (Berlin, 1843). SEE BEGHARDS.