The Beguines have their roots in the early Church, where groups of women would attach themselves to the Church and live monastic lives without vows. This practice died out, replaced by monasticism as we recognise it, but in the twelfth century it reappeared in the Low Countries as the Beguine movement. Beguine has etymological roots in 'prayer', not 'begging' as has been thought in the past. They were women living without vows in community, sometimes as many as over a thousand, free to come and go as they wished and often adopting the Franciscan Tertiary rule for their lives. Male versions came under censure because of a number of perceived heresies stemming from their mysticism, which could be unsuited to the Church. The Beguines rose and fell, now numbering about two thousand altogether, this Beguinage in Bruges is beautifully preserved and one of the few remaining houses, the Prioress gives a blanket permission for tourists to wander around and there is a very large shop of religious nicknackery, where I almost bought a new Graduale as my old one is falling apart, but realised that it must be cheaper in the UK.
This is the shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in the Conventual Chapel, where the Memorare is said with the addition of 'Our Lady of Consolation, Pray for us', at the end.
You may see that the chairs all seem to be back to front, this is a traditional Bruges type of chair, in effect they are high backed kneelers, rather than Chairs. In the past the Beguines would have knelt in the nave and the few more senior Beguines who made vows and administrated the others (for there are always such people) sat in choro. The closest group we may know is Opus Dei, who have a similar tiered system and make no vows, I think that there is great mileage in this way of life, something which MinDiv have given me permission to explore in the next few years.
This is one of the ways into the complex, behind is the ancient Brewery of the Half Moon, which makes an excellent strong Christmas beer.
And here is the back door into the enclosure. Directly behind in this shoot is a cluster of eye wateringly expensive restaurants.