A “Begijnhof” or “Beguinage”, from the French term “Béguinage”, is an architectural complex created to house "beguines" or lay religious women in the cities of northern Europe who, at the beginning in the Middle Ages lived in a community without taking vows or retiring from the world.

The use of the word “Beguine” (Latin: “beguina”) was established by the 1230s. Its etymology is uncertain; it seems to have originated as a pejorative term. By the mid-13th century, the movement had spread throughout the Low Countries, Germany, and northern France.

The beguinal movement began among upper-class women and spread to the middle class. In addition to addressing the spiritual needs of its adherents, it responded to socioeconomic problems caused by a surplus of unattached women in urban areas. Most supported themselves, often by nursing or cloth- or lace-making, and they spent time in religious contemplation. Beguines promised to preserve chastity while they remained in the community, but they were free to leave it and marry.

The male counterparts of Beguines were known as "Beghards". They never achieved the same prominence, and the few communities that survived in Belgium were suppressed during the French Revolution.

The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde is the only preserved beguinage located in the city of Bruges, Belgium. There are no more Beguines living there, but since 1927 it has functioned as a convent for Benedictines, founded by canon Hoornaert.

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