Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

The Last of the Beguines (Another Restless Soul) Dies

Marcella Pattyn was “the world’s last Beguine,” as her obituary in The Economist describes her. She died this month at the age of 92.

As you now know, I love reading the obituaries in The Economist. The latest issue features the life of another restless soul: she was the very last “Beguine,” Marcella Pattyn, whose passing wistfully marks the end of a whole way of life.


The Beguines were itinerant communities of women devoted to prayer, work and service that sprang up in Europe during the thirteenth century as an alternative to the two other roles offered women at that time (marriage or a life in orders). Beguines took orders from no one; they were not bound by vows; and their commitment to living a life of freedom in the Spirit was costly, often resulting in persecution and even death. As Pattyn’s obituary puts it, Beguines (unlike nuns) “could leave; they made their own rules, without male guidance; they were encouraged to study and read, and they were expected to earn their keep by working, especially in the booming cloth trade. They existed somewhere between the world and the cloister, in a state of autonomy which was highly unusual for medieval women and highly disturbing to medieval men.”


This idiosyncratic way of life on the margins of society contributed to great works of theology, such as The Mirror of Simple Souls (Marguerite Porete) and The Flowing Light of the Godhead (Mechtild of Magdeburg), which I had the privilege of reading and engaging centuries later in a women’s theology seminar at Emory last spring. So, as I raise my cup of joe this morning to Pattyn, and to Mechtild and Porete before her, I can’t help but feel a little sad to be bidding the Beguines an offiicial “goodbye.” At least some solace comes in knowing that their work will live on.

Previous Posts

Suicide, Depression and What Every Family Needs to Know
Today is the last day of National Suicide Prevention Month. That, and the suicide earlier this month of a young man in a church community in ...

posted 9:10:32pm Sep. 30, 2015 | read full post »

Mental Health Break — "On Melancholy Hill" and What's Up Next Here
Single motherhood for the next nine months — with my hubby traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C., thanks to a National Endowment of Humanities (NEH) research fellowship there — may reduce my presence here at this intersection. But I'm ...

posted 3:34:48pm Sep. 24, 2015 | read full post »

A Monk, A Man Behind Bars for Murder, and Their Life-Changing Correspondence
[caption id="attachment_5740" align="alignleft" width="400"] The U.S. locks up more people every year than any other country, including China, with a population roughly five times greater than that of the U.S.. 5% of the world's population ...

posted 8:37:11pm Sep. 16, 2015 | read full post »

This Old House: A Poem
              The dramatic transformation that our old house continues to ...

posted 9:19:25pm Sep. 11, 2015 | read full post »

2 Ways I'm Like Mr. Bean When On Retreat at the Monastery
It’s been a while since my last “retreat” at the monastery. The last time I was here, I was on ...

posted 4:25:13pm Sep. 09, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.