Hasselt, Belgium and the Begijn Movement.

Hasselt is the chief town of the Belgian commune of Limburg.  It is near the Dutch border and there is a similarly named province in the Netherlands.  Suzi and I visited Hasselt after Carol Lam’s Funeral with Dave, and their adult kids.  We went because of the Hasselt Winterland, a Christmas Market, but found the town interesting in its own right.

The begijnhofsite is now an art museum and arts center but beginning in the 12th century the Begijn (Beguine) movement started caring for single women who did not want to enter a convent and follow a religious vocation, giving them a sheltered place to live.  Wars in this area left a lot of widows.  The Begijnhof in Hasselt was founded in 1245.  Begijn residents were free to leave whenever they wanted, and could marry if they left the Begijn.  The women often tended the poor and led spiritual lives of voluntary poverty.  The Begijnhof in Hasselt was burned and rebuilt in cycles after several wars, disbanded when the Protestants were in power, renewed under Catholic rulers.  The current buildings went up in the 1700s.  The “campus” has the look of an expensive US east coast college quad.  The Begijn movement largely died out during the French Revolution but this Begijnhof operated until the 1930s under the “Poor Office” of Hasselt.  The buildings were badly damaged in World War II, the church was destroyed.  The province of Limburg took the Begijnhof and began restoration in 1946 using it for a library, museum, arts center and public gardens.

We enjoyed the town and some of its whimsical public art.  There is also a bust of the “Unknown Woman” representing women victims of war, an appropriate monument for a town with a Begijn.  It had offerings of flowers and bread.  St. Quentin’s Cathedral went up in stages between the 11th and 18th centuries.  It has mixed styles and some striking gargoyles.

To see pictures of the Hasselt Winterland Christmas Market please click.

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