The Beguinage (“Begijnhof”) is a peaceful oasis in the heart of Breda’s hectic city center. Beguines were single women who formed a community but didn’t make any vows to the church. They were allowed to generate their own income and did so by doing the upkeep of nursery schools, caring for the sick, doing manual labor and praying for survivors.
The Beguinage was founded in 1267 and was originally located closer to the Castle of Breda. It was moved to its current location around 1534-1535 when count Hendrik III van Nassau decided to expand his garden.
An extra floor was built on top of the initially low houses during the eighteenth century, which is still clearly visible now. The Wendelinus chapel next to the entrance used to be the beguines’ church, before the Eighty Years’ War. In 1590, they were forced to give up this church to the local Waalse community. Luckily, the Beguinage was protected by the Nassau family and could therefore remain.
During the nineteenth century, it was illegal to openly practice catholicism. This caused a revival of the Beguinage. A new gate building was built together with a new church and a clergy house. They also added a second courtyard.
The small building on the left side of the church used to be called the ‘kakhuis’ (‘poo house’) because the toilets were located there. The gate building was replaced a second time in 1980.
Beguines no longer exist. The last beguine, sister Frijters, passed away in 1990. Now, the houses in the Beguinage are still inhabited by single women and many traditions and customs are still maintained, like the witch ball placed across from the clergy house. This mirrored ball is meant to scare off demons, illnesses, bad luck and the devil. It’s there from the days of the Ice Saints until All Souls’ Day.
There is an elaborate herb garden in the Beguinage. The beguines had extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs and used many herbs in their treatments of illnesses.
Two small museums can also be found in the Beguinage. The Miniature and Dollhouse Museum is located in the gate building. The Beguinage Museum is housed in one of the former residences, giving an insight into the lives of the beguines.
Visiting as a group? Have a look at our Beguinage Deal. It can be booked all year round.