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Catholic Dictionary




Communities of lay women founded in the Netherlands in the twelfth century. Devoting themselves to the care of the disabled and poor, they lived a semi-monastic life, free to own property and return to the world at their pleasure. Each residence of two or three persons was called a béguinage, a self-supporting unit with a chapel in the enclosure for general use. Without a common rule or superiors, some adopted the regulations of the third order of St. Francis. They greatly influenced the lives of the people for good, especially in educational and charitable works, but became involved in the errors and heresies current at the time and were condemned by the Council of Vienne. they almost disappeared during the French Revolution. Those who remain today care for the sick and make lace for profit and support. (Etym. French Béguine, after founder, Lambert le Bègue.)