The late 1100s were a time of great social upheaval in Western Europe. Thousands left agriculture and migrated to the towns, which grew rapidly and a new ‘middle class’ of merchants and craftsmen evolved. Also, the Crusades had led thousands of men to their death, leaving an imbalance of women.
The Church was not well placed to cope with this new climate. For centuries, the beating heart of the faith had been in the monasteries, which were almost always in the country, sticking to ancient traditions and out of touch with new social developments. Women who wanted to live radically for God had few openings. The time was ripe for a new expression of the kingdom of God. A group called the Beguines rose to the challenge.
This was a spontaneous movement that began with a group of praying women in Liège, Belgium, in the 1190s. Not wanting either of the usual options of marriage or a nunnery, these radical women pioneered a new form of community. They pledged themselves to prayer, poverty and celibacy. Seeing how society was changing, they chose to stay in the towns, especially the poor suburbs, where they could serve the people with Jesus’ love. Continue reading The 12th Century Nuns who Demanded to be Free