round 1560, the beguinage outside the city walls was destroyed. The beguines moved back into the inner city, where the Large Beguinage grew. They buy up existing properties and build new ones. This gives the Large Beguinage a unique character compared to beguinages in other cities.
The small, cosy streets of the beguinages exude tranquillity. It is very pleasant to stay and live in the houses, which are protected monuments. The residents thank you for respecting their privacy. Thanks to its typical Flemish character and distinct architecture, the Large Beguinage has a spot on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
A beguinage was a small town within a town. With its own bakery, brewery, nursing home, church and bleaching fields. Beguinages were founded at the time of the Crusades. Many men left on crusades but never returned. This created a female surplus of widows, orphans and women who could not find a suitable husband. Going to monasteries was a solution because monasteries often only took in noble or well-to-do women.
Women who could not or did not want to enter convents went to live together and provide for themselves together. The big difference with convents was that beguines did not take the eternal vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. So you were not bound for life, although that was common.
Initially, the church treated them as heretics, but gradually they were accepted, provided they led a pious life. This is how the beguinages in Flanders came into being. At the head of a beguinage was the grand mistress or grand miss. She was assisted by mistresses in the organisation and coordination of daily life.
There were rich, mostly noble beguines, who built or bought their own houses in the beguinage. Less wealthy beguines rented a small room from these proprietresses and took care of the household. Beguines without property found accommodation in the convents. They are comparable to small-scale convents. They were usually founded by benefactors to ensure that they or their deceased relatives were prayed for. Beguines in the convents had to work for a living. Thus, lace-making became one of the main occupations from the 17th century onwards. The beguinage therefore played a crucial role in Mechelen's lace production.
The Large Beguinage of Mechelen is close to Van der Valk Hotel Mechelen.