Group at the Köln beguinage, including Sr. Laura and some beguines
Marcella Pattyn (d. 2013) was touted as the “last beguine.” Yet, while researching the history of beguines for my book, The Wisdom of the Beguines, I kept hearing word that there were contemporary beguines, but no one knew where, or who, or how to contact them. Then I heard from two beguines outside Dublin and one from Australia. But nothing more.
Then--what a gift! I was contacted by Beguine Brita of Fulda, Germany, who is one of the leaders of the German movement of Beguines. She organizes spring tours, and every several years, a fall gathering with scholars. Their goal is to help contemporary beguines understand the roots and history of the beguine movement across Europe. Thus I found myself in Essen, Germany, this October for an international gathering of beguines (I delivered a paper), with about 60 participants. Several of the women had translated my book into German (Die Weisheit der Beginen).
While most of the participants were German, beguines from Switzerland, Ireland, and Italy were also present. We visited several beguine communities around Essen and Cologne (Köln).
I witnessed similarities and differences. Most were vegetarians, cultivating gardens of flowers and vegetables. They were committed to caring for the environment. They welcomed women with young children into their communities. One community cared for 14 infirm women (several were beguines now needing significant support). All expressed their spirituality through their commitment to justice and women's spirituality; some embraced Celtic spirituality; and many, wounded by the institutional church (whichever variety) were still finding their way toward a common spirituality.
But everywhere I went, these women were gracious, hospitable, and interested in each guest who came to them. I witnessed a movement with great potential. You can learn more about the German expression of beguines at https://www.dachverband-der-beginen.de/startseite
If you'd like to know more about the history of beguines, there is some information on them at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beguines_and_Beghards and also in my book Wisdom of the Beguines.