Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Beatrice of Nazareth: "Absorbed in the Abyss of Love"

Beatrice of Nazareth (feast day, 29 July)

The woman who became known as Beatrice of Nazareth was born about the year 1200 in Tienen, a town near the Flemish city of Leuven, to a relatively wealthy father, Bartholomew, a man known for his piety. She was the youngest of six children, educated at first by her mother--and the young Beatrice was recognized as "a prodigy of learning."

Stained glass depiction of
Beatrice of Nazareth,
Cistercian Abbey of Brecht,
the "official continuation"
of the monastery of Nazareth
After her mother's death, when Beatrice was about aged seven, her father sent her to a community of beguines at Zoutleeuw so "that she might more freely make progress in virtue."* While there she also attended a town school, open to both boys and girls, where she was trained in the seven liberal arts.

Called home by her father about a year later, Beatrice asked to join a religious order, and so, about the year 1210, when she was ten years old, she became an oblate at the Cistercian convent at Bloemendaal. She became a novitiate when she was about fifteen years old, and soon thereafter she was professed as a nun.

In 1216, the abbess of Bloemendaal sent her to the Cistercian community of Rameya to learn how to write liturgical manuscripts. At Rameya she developed a close spiritual friendship with the visionary Ida of Nivelles.

In January of 1217, under Ida's direction, Beatrice experienced her first mystical vision; as it was described by her contemporary biographer, "Beatrice, with devout meditation, praise, thanksgiving and all humility followed the Son as he ascended right up to the Father's presence." This is a vision seen "not with bodily but with intellectual eyes, with eyes not of the flesh but of the mind." 

Shortly after this experience, she returned to Blomendaal, where her father, two brothers, and two sisters had become lay members of the community. When a daughter community was founded in 1221, her family moved to the new Maagendal house, and Beatrice eventually joined them there, perhaps in 1221, perhaps later. Whenever she moved to Maagendal, she remained there until 1236 when she transferred to the new Cistercian convent of Nazareth, which gave her her name, Beatrice of Nazareth. She was elected prioress and remained there until her death in 1268.

A fourteenth-century Brussels
ms. of Beatrice of Nazareth's
The Seven Manners of Loving
For twenty years, from about 1215 until 1235, Beatrice is known to have kept a spiritual journal, now lost. In Nazareth, a Vita Beatricis (life of Beatrice) was written, and this document preserves much of the detail of Beatrice's life.

In Nazareth she also composed her own text, The Seven Manners of Loving--which religious historian Bernard McGinn regards as "a powerful exploration" of the most important themes "of the women mystics of northern Europe in the thirteenth century."

Beatrice of Nazareth is venerated as the Blessed Beatrice, her feast day celebrated on 29 July.

There is an excellent discussion of Beatrice of Nazareth as a mystic in McGinn's The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism, 1200-1350, volume 3 of his History of Western Christian Mysticism. In addition, Fione Bowles's volume in the Spiritual Classics series, Beguine Spirituality: Mystical Writings of Mechthild of Magdeburg, Beatrice of Nazareth, and Hadewijch of Brabant, offers a good introduction to her work.

You can read Beatrice of Nazareth's Seven Manners of Loving by clicking here.

*As we have seen, the Beguines were a lay religious movement--Beguines like Marie of Oignies and Mechthild of Magdeburg were not associated with any religious order, nor did they live in any officially sanctioned community. They lived an ascetic, spiritual life, devoting themselves to poverty and chastity, working among the poor and ill and modeling their lives on the life of Jesus. 

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