Lay religious women and church reform in late medieval Munster: A case study of the Beguines

2008 2008

Other formats: Order a copy

Abstract (summary)

The beguine movement consisted of lay women living a quasi-religious lifestyle that was found across Europe. Without taking monastic vows, the beguines lived in celibate communities and took an active part in the world. The women maintained characteristics of their medieval origins, yet the movement was flexible and allowed for regional variation. Scholars have assumed that small communities of German beguines disappeared after the Council of Vienne. Of approximately fourteen beguine houses in the towns of Münster, Coesfeld, and Bocholt, six survived, in some form, into the sixteenth century and beyond. Why did the Münsterland beguines continue to exist for centuries? For Münsterland beguine communities to flourish, they must have represented a distinct lifestyle that provided incentives for women to join them, and they must have provided benefits to society that gave ecclesiastical and civic authorities reason to tolerate them. Münsterland beguine foundation and statute documents provide information about beguines' habits, communicating the expectations held for the beguines. Examining the intercessory market and the Münsterland beguines' position within it provides an understanding of the beguines' role in society. Information from these beguine records, viewed together with the history of other North German beguines develops a composite picture of beguine patterns of behavior and ideals and helps define what distinguishes beguines from other religious or semireligious groups. While chastity was the core requirement for both the Sisters of the Common Life and the beguines, there were differences in the organization of and the freedom allowed to beguines, especially in respect to ideas about private and communal property. Local ecclesiastical authorities knew of the existence of the beguine burgher communities but were either unable or uninterested in applying pressure upon them to adopt a regularized monastic existence. Small Münsterland beguine houses were a successful alternative to the beguine courts of the Low Countries. Their survival provides for a better understanding not just of the beguine movement but of the wide variety of local religious expression of the pre-Tridentine Latin Church.

Indexing (details)

Religious history;
European history;
Medieval history
0320: Religious history
0335: European history
0581: Medieval history
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology; Social sciences; Beguines; Beguines-Germany-History; Church reform; Church-history-Middle Ages; Germany; Germany-church history; Lay religious; Medieval; Monasticism and religious orders for women-Germany-History-Middle Ages 600-1500; Munster; Women religious
Lay religious women and church reform in late medieval Munster: A case study of the Beguines
Gelser, Erica
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 69/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
University of Pennsylvania
University location
United States -- Pennsylvania
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
Access the complete full text

You can get the full text of this document if it is part of your institution's ProQuest subscription.

Try one of the following:

  • Connect to ProQuest through your library network and search for the document from there.
  • Request the document from your library.
  • Go to the ProQuest login page and enter a ProQuest or My Research username / password.