Glossaries – Beguinages – The Netherlands and Belgium

This glossary will provide you with explanations (and sometimes also translations) of Dutch words and expressions, used within the datasets on the commons and the related webtexts. Explanation/translation will only be given at the word or expression most commonly used. In case other words or expressions have the same meaning, a term in italics refers the explanation of the word/expression at the word/expression most commonly used.

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see: Amortificatie.


(Mortmain; French: Mortmain)

also known as: Admortificatie, Dode-hand-stelling.

Secular authorities were unhappy when individual beguines bequeathed their possessions to the beguine-court. Such goods came into the so-called mortmain, or perpetual ownership of the beguine-court, making it impossible for the authorities to exact taxes from them.


see: Jaargetijderegister.



A beguine-court was in some cases also a separate a parish with its own church, churchyard and priest. The priest assigned masses, heard confession and advised the mistresses.


also known as: Rector.

The ‘beneficiant’, sometimes called ‘rector’, was attached to a benefice in the beguine-church. On fixed days or hours the beneficiant assigned mass on one of the altars in the beguine-church. Sometimes the beneficiant wrote the sermon for the beguine-priest.


(Benefice; Latin: Beneficium)

Originally a beneficewas a gift of land for life as a reward for services rendered. The word comes from the Latin ‘beneficium’, meaning ‘benefit’. In the archives of beguine-courts we find lists of benefices. For example, beguines prayed for the dead and received donations of land and/or other goods.



In archives containing documents from the Middle Ages, cartularies can often be found. Cartularies are registers containing transcriptions of original documents related to the foundation, privileges and legal rights of ecclesiastical establishments, in this case the beguine-court.


see: Proveniers.


see: Amortificatie.



Sometimes beguines were called faliezusters. In the regulations for the living of the beguines we find instructions on how to dress. Beguines should wear a falie, a white veil, which differed in form from the headgear of nuns.


(Foundation letter)

Not uncommon is the presence of a so-called foundation letter, written by a devout and rich member of the urban patricians, or a member of the nobility of the region. By the letter or charter the patrician granted a house for a certain number of devout women, or a noble woman founded a house or houses were women could live together.



In some beguine-courts, mainly those of a decent size, there were hospitals or infirmaries to care for poor or sick beguines. In Ypres/Ieper (Belgium), for example, there was an infirmary founded in 1272 by the patrician Jan Bardonc and his wife. It was situated outside the town and destined to the poor beguines of Ypres/Ieper who could no longer get support from their beguine-court. Next to the ‘large infirmary’ in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch beguine-court there was a ‘small infiirmary’ for poor beguines. In the infirmaries there was also room for sick women from the town, who lived outside the beguinage (Simons and Trio 2011, 130-1).


(Latin: Anniversarium)

Praying for the souls of the dead was not only a very important task for the beguines, but also a substantial source of income. Beguines prayed for the dead soul on or around the date of death, were present during mass and paid a visit to the grave for a certain amount of money or goods. In the Breda anniversarium, the register containing the names of the individuals to commemorate after their death, we find not only rules about lighting candles, the amount of priests to be present during the mass for the memory of the dead soul and the distribution of food to the poor, but also how the income is to be shared between the beguines (Gooskens 1992). 


Some courts were composed of mistresses which were assisted by a certain number of beguines. The board of  the Groot Begijnhof of ‘s-Hertogenbosch consisted of four mistresses and eight, sometimes ten beguines, which were called ‘jofferen’.


(Latin: Cella)

In some beguine-courts ‘cella’, or very small houses, were built for women who wanted to live in seclusion in order to focus entirely on God. The reclused women were not beguines but nuns, although a number of them had previously lived as beguines. These cellae were usually built on the northern wall of the beguinage.



One, and sometimes more, of the beguines held the post of verger. She took care of the church linen, the wax candles, wine and bread and other things that were part of the church services. The verger of the Delft beguine-court also administered the memorial services which were held in the chapel of the court.



Beguines, sometimes in conjunction with the town council, elected the board of the beguine-court. Usually two or more mistresses were selected from the beguines. The mistresses were to be ‘prudent, wise and humble’ (as mentioned in the sources of the Begijnhof Ter Wijngaarde, Brussels) and would represent the beguines in the town council and manage the finances. The mistresses were also responsible for ensuring that the beguines complied with the statutes. For instance, when a beguine repeatedly neglected to ask permission to leave the court or received visitors without permission, she could be removed from the court. In short, the overall social and economic governance rested with the mistresses.



The portress closed and opened the doors of the court. As the portress maintained the absence list, she can be seen as the eyes of the mistresses who upheld the discipline.


(Profession register)

A beguine made no eternal vows, such as those taken by men and women who joined a cloister. A new beguine promised to obey the mistresses of the community and to live in chastity. This solemn moment of accession, the profession, was recorded in a so called profession register. Usually the community or the chapel would receive a gift. In the professie-register of the Breda beguine-court (Archief Begijnhof 43, 1648-1833) the mistress sometimes noted details about the donation. For example: ‘Anno 1651 in september is geproffessit Anneken Willems out wesende vijftich jaeren. Heeft aen de kerck vereert vier coperen candeleren enden eenen witten satijnen geborduerden kelckdoeck. Suster Anneken Willems is gestorven int jaer 1675 den 10 november ende heeft aen het begijnhoff van Breda gemaeckt xxxx (doorgehaald) gulden, ontfangen bijde meesterse Magdalene van Sprangh, maer behouden 71 gulden 13 st. door de groote rusie die de vrinden maeckten. Maer heeft nog aen de kerck gegeven eenen silveren aerm die voor Sinte Begga hanght” [Transl.: In the year 1651, in the month of September, Anneken Willems, aged 50, has been professed. She has piously donated to the church four candelabres made out of copper and a embroidered purificatorium, made of white satin. Sister Anneken Willems has died November 10th, 1675 and has legated to the beguinage of Breda 40 guilders [the amount having been crossed out], as this amount has been received by mistress Magdalena van Sprangh, but has kept 71 guilders 13 stuivers because of the greatquarrel among the friends. However, she has donated a silver arm, pending before [the statue of] Saint Begga].



also known as: Commensalen.

Some beguines earned money by taking care of so-called female ‘proveniers’, women who were dependant on charity. Commensals could also live in a beguine-court and were taken care of by beguines.


Members of the town council could be provisor and exerted influence on the court. In ‘s-Hertogenbosch the mistresses of the beguine-court determined who they wanted as provisor. 


see: Beneficiant.


see: Statuten.


see: Statuten.


(Rules, Statutes)

also known as: Rol, Rolle.

Like many organisations and groups of people living together, the beguines established rules. The statutes of a beguine-court included rules concerning the board, the times of contemplation, clothing, work, ownership of the houses, visitors et cetera. Usually once a year the rules were read aloud. Another name for the statutes, as in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch beguine-court, is rol (‘rolle’).



As a beguine, a so-called tertiary lived a life between church and world. For a tertiary, it was not necessary to live in a cloister, although they often lived together and shared, unlike beguines, their possessions. Most tertiaries followed the third rule of St. Francis. It was not uncommon that beguines who became tertiaries – they were more trusted by the church – would eventually become nuns. Initially tertiaries were laymen who pursued a religious life.