Our visit began when we met with two English-speaking Benedictines, Sisters Felicitas and Stephanie. After learning much about the history of the Beguines who lived in this Beguinage since the mid-13th century, we were invited to tour the cloister and their biblioteek where we were able to touch ancient manuscripts and to taste the spirituality that is at the heart and soul of the Beguinage.
I longed to return and spend more time there, and God answered my prayers. This month we were able to spend almost a week there.
We arrived in Brugge just in time to celebrate the Great Feast of Pentecost. The sisters greeted us with open arms! I felt like I was “home again.”
Over the next few days we were able to join the sisters in the choir as they chanted the Holy Office in both Dutch and Latin. To be more accurate, I should say we “followed along” as the sisters chanted and we lip-synched.
A highlight for me was our last evening in Brugge. After Compline, we were invited to join them as they processed into their private vesting room just off the side altar. It was then that we learned that they follow an ancient custom to sing the Salve Regina after Compline, which is just before the sisters enter the Grand Silence which is kept overnight until morning prayers.
As we stood in their vesting room, I felt right at home. We former a semi-circle in front of their beloved 13th-century carved wooden statue of Our Lady of the Vineyard. My heart soared as we began a sacred song that I had learned in my childhood.
“Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve….”
“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy…our life, our sweetness and our hope….”
As Sibyl Dana Reynolds writes in her book, “Ink and Honey”…”There is a sisterhood among women that transcends time and space.”
For that moment, as my heart sung the Salve Regina, I felt one with the Beguines of centuries past, the Benedictine sisters who now live in the Beguinage, and my contemporary Sisters of Belle Coeur.
There is so much more I could write about this sacred and mystical experience. But for now, I invite you to spend time in prayer, and reflect on how the saints of old may be speaking to you in this time and place. You might be surprised and perhaps even transformed by this meditative experience.
To learn more about the Beguines, I highly recommend Laura Swan’s book: “The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement.”
I also recommend the work of Sibyl Dana Reynolds: “Ink and Honey” and “The Way of Belle Coeur.” All these books can be found on amazon.com