Vulgariter Beghinae: Eight Centuries of Beguine History in the Low Countries

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Author: Walter Simons
Date: June 2005
From: Church History(Vol. 74, Issue 2)
Publisher: American Society of Church History
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,000 words

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Vulgariter Beghinae: Eight Centuries of Beguine History in the Low Countries. By Hans Geybels. Brepols Essays in European Culture 4. Turnhout: Brepols, 2004. 182 pp. $30.00 cloth.

This is a strange book. Hans Geybels claims to offer a new, "well-supported synthesis" [of beguine history], "[t]his, in contrast to the proliferation of different doubtful hypotheses on many subjects relating to the beguines" (12). He believes that such a new synthesis is possible without any research whatsoever: all that is needed, apparently, is to read monographs. The author informs us that "there are many historical records of the beguines in existence" (12), but since he describes them as "decrees of councils still available in the archives," or as "correspondence from beguines to custodians," one wonders if he has actually ever looked at any of the said sources; his book does not bear evidence of it.

The book is also hard to describe. A summary of the first chapter may be exemplary. After musings about kings and queens of Europe, the Crusades, the chansons de geste, and something about "the status of women" in the Middle Ages, Geybels turns to the beguine movement, reiterating the tired formula of a four-stage process of growth, first launched a century ago, in which beguines supposedly moved from informal to more formal communities in four neatly defined steps. Geybels undermines the effort by frequent misdating: he places the first mention of mulieres religiosae vulgariter beghinae dictae in the early stages, which he dates to 1170-90, but in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A133528468