Our Roots: From Beguine to Cellites

The start of the Congregation of the Cellitinnen goes back to the Beguine movement which spread from about the 12th century onwards. Pious, single women founded lay communities for religious and practical reasons, and they lived together in so-called Beguine communities.

Beginenhof 'Unsere liebe Frau', Gent

Beguine community "Unsere Liebe Frau" in Gent

In comparison to the religious orders, the Beguines took temporary vows and could thus leave the community again, take their property with them, possibly marry and live as free citizens. They also did not live a hidden life but spent their lives devoting themselves to nursing, education, the textile trade and also to washing the dead. In addition to these charitable services, their spiritual life was also of high value.

The church suspected the Beguine movement of being sect-like and of being open to esoteric ideas. This meant that the church increasingly pressurised the Beguines to become part of religious life in the church. As a result of this, many of those in nursing communities accepted the rule of St. Augustine.

In Cologne, the Beguines flourished particularly well. On becoming part of the church, the Beguines in the Diocese of Cologne called themselves Cellitinnen. The root of this name can no longer be traced today. As a result of their activity washing dead bodies, they are assumed to have been close to the Eremite community of the "Zell Brüder", who took care of the dead (cella grave: Middle High German "for digging a grave").

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