Beguines – the good women of northern Europe

Amidst the fervant religiosity of the Crusades a female movement emerged at the start of the 12th century. Across the Low Countries and the German lands women began to live alone, and devoted themselves to prayer and good works. They were not nuns, they did not take vows or give up property, but they devoted themselves to attending to the poor.

About the beginning of the 13th century some of them grouped their cabins together to form a community, called a Beguinage. The movement would decline over the 16th century, but survived with a handful of Beguines into the 21st century.

The Art of Germany, Andrew Graham-Dixon, BBC 4