Murmurs & Mystery

[First posted in June 2014 on]

The chanting of women floated through the small, white-plaster chapel with its barrel-like wood ceiling, lovingly restored to a semblance of its 13th-century dignity. I walked slowly and wide-eyed through the Beguinage Church of Saint Agnes in the little Belgian village of Sint-Truiden.

St. Agnes

Women permeate the place—not only their haunting recorded voices, but also their images. Adorning every column and corner are paintings and frescoes depicting their witness. On one column, the biblical Mary and Elizabeth, both pregnant with babies and with hope, greet one another. On another, Veronica dries Jesus’ tears as he falls under the weight of the cross. Saints Catherine and Agnes and Helena are there. And upon entering the sacred site, you can’t miss the disturbing image of Saint Agatha, looking to heaven and praying while being tortured by her Inquisitors.

How, I wondered, has this place survived for eight hundred years?—this simple chapel that celebrates womanhood, in all its faith and strength, its anguish and vulnerability. What joy, what courage, what tears must have bathed that holy site through the centuries. And what a blessing it was to walk amid the spirits of the Beguines, the ancient women who created it. Continue reading