The Begijnhof is an enclosed courtyard dating from the early 14th century. Nothing survived
of the earliest dwellings, but the Begijnhof, which is cut off from Amsterdam's traffic noice,
still retains a sanctified atmosphere. The Begijnhof was originally built as a sactuary for the Begijntjes, a Catholic sisterhood who lived like nuns, although they took no monastic vows. The beautiful houses overlook its well-kept green garden, include the Amsterdam's oldest surviving house Het Houten Huis dating from around 1420. On the adjoining walls, there
is a fascinating collection of wall plaques with biblical theme. Southern fringe of the
square is dominated by the Engelse Kerk (English Church) which dates from the 15 century and possesses its original medieval tower.
History of the Begijnhof
Around 1150, a group of women came to live in a religious community, primarily to look
after the sick. These were, effectively the first 'Beguines' although the name was not yet
used. The women were not nuns and nor did they live in the seclusion of a convent. They
had no founders nor did they make lifelong vows. They did have to be unmarried, to
make a vow of chastity and to promise obedience to the parish priest, but since they
were not expected to make a vow of poverty, they were free to dispose of their own possessions. They could renounce their vows at any moment and leave the Beguinage,
for instance, to get married. It is not known when exactly the Beguinage was founded. The first time the word 'beguines' was used was in an official document of 1307 found in the accounts of the Bailiff of Amstelland. Another document, dated 31 July 1346, speaks of the Beghijnhuis (house of the Beguines) ceded to them by one Cope van der Laene on St Peter's Eve. In 1393, on 7 August, Albrecht van Beieren (Albert of Bavaria) ratified the regulations of the Beguinage by letter, taking them under his protection and giving a number of rules for those in the Beguinage to observe. He also stipulated that a woman could only be admitted as a Beguine after she had lived at the Beguinage for at least 18 months.