The beguinages of Flanders and the Netherlands are always oases of calm and stillness, where you might still expect to see an old beguine mumbling her prayers in a doorway. Two of Ghent’s three beguinages have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Although the Old St Elizabeth Beguinage, in Begijnhofdries in Ghent, is no longer enclosed by a wall, making it simply part of the city, it still has a unique atmosphere. Today the Old St Elizabeth Beguinage is known as ‘holy corner’, a place of religious tolerance, because it has no less than three different churches: one is Roman Catholic, one is Orthodox and the other is Protestant.
From bleachfield to orchard
This open beguinage grew into something of a ‘beguine city’ in the 13th century, with a church, the ‘Grootjuffer’s House’, an infirmary, a chapel, more than a hundred houses for beguines, a bleachfield (a field where linen was laid out to bleach) and an orchard. After the French Revolution, with increasing industrialisation, the inhabitants moved to their new beguinage in Sint-Amandsberg in 1873.