Beatrice of Nazareth was born to a merchant family
of Tienen, near Brussels, Belgium. As a very
young child she showed an aptitude for scholarship,
and at age seven, upon the death of her
mother, her father sent her to live for a year with a
group of beguines. The beguines were laywomen
in the Low Countries who chose to lead spiritual
lives without taking vows at a religious institution.
When Beatrice discovered her vocation for monastic
life, her father allowed her to enter the Cistercian
convent at Bloemendaal.
In 1216 Beatrice officially became a novice, and in
1217 she traveled to the convent at Rameya to study
with Ida of Nivelles.Under her tutelage Beatrice had
her first mystical experience in January 1217. In 1221
she returned to Bloemendaal, where the visions continued,
and the esteem with which she was treated
troubled this very modest woman. In 1236 she
joined the Cistercian community at Nazareth, near
Antwerp, where she was made prioress and where
she remained until her death.
The anonymous Life of Beatrice was composed
from a private diary Beatrice kept, recording her
experiences. She also wrote several treatises on the
spiritual life. The only one to survive, called Seven
Modes of Sacred Love, is considered the first vernacular
work exploring the soul’s ascent to God.
For Beatrice, sacred love, minne in Flemish, is the
pinnacle of the soul’s existence. In Seven Modes she
writes: “love strives only for the purity, the nobility
and the highest excellence which she herself
is . . . and it is this same striving which love teaches
to those who seek to follow her.” Beatrice shares
her belief that experience of God is a personal interaction
mediated by love with other women mystics,
such as Mechthild of Magdeburg, Julian of
Norwich, and Hadewijch, as well as the later Belgian
theologian Jan van Ruusbroec.
An English Version of a Work by
Beatrice of Nazareth
Bowie, Fiona, ed. Beguine Spirituality: Mystical Writings
of Mechthild of Magdeburg, Beatrice of
Nazareth, and Hadewijch of Brabant. Translated by
Oliver Davies. New York: Spiritual Classics, 1990.
Works about Beatrice of Nazareth
De Ganck, Roger. Beatrice of Nazareth in Her Context.
3 vols. Kalamazoo,Mich.: Cistercian Publications,
———. The Life of Beatrice of Nazareth. Kalamazoo,
Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1991.