chapter  8
21 Pages

8 ElasticInstitutions:BeguineCommunitiesin

ByEarly Modern Germany Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane

In 1753 a German engraver named Anton Beck painted a small image of a beguine, which he then pasted onto the final page of an eclectic collection of urban sketches. A modest figure from the Auf dem Werder community in the city of Braunschweig, the beguine is garbed in simple cap and dress and depicted in profile as she goes about her business of collecting alms for charity.1 The little work, which might appear at first glance unremarkable, is nonetheless historically illuminating: the talented Beck was a keen observer of the social world around him, and although his decision to paint a local beguine was unusual, he was not alone in paying attention to such lay religious women. Many other local figures, including founding families, clergy, and city council members, lavished ink on representations of beguine life in other ways: income, expenditures, membership, historical origins, appointed supervisors, house rules, memorials, prayer guidelines, administrative shifts, and even a periodic complaint or petition from the women themselves were recorded. As a result, Beck’s book on the city archive shelves is only one of dozens of volumes pertaining to the eighteen or so beguine communities in Braunschweig that existed well into, and in many cases beyond, the early modern period.2