A Spiritual Healer.
Marie was born into a noble Flemish family near Liège in the Low Countries and was one of the first women to be recognized as a Béguine. Although she was married at fourteen, she and her husband did not consummate their marriage, but rather worked together in the care of the sick. At thirty, she renounced her wealth and retired to a cell at an Augustinian monastery, devoting herself to an ascetic, Christ-centered life in which she experienced ecstasies and visions, even to the point of accomplishing a miraculous three-day feat of incessant chanting and scriptural exegesis (critical interpretation). She was particularly well known as a spiritual healer, and her reputation inspired the growing groups of urban laywomen who were beginning to assemble together in parts of Germany and the Lowlands to attempt to live holy lives in austere communities, but without taking formal vows as required within the official structure of recognized convents and monasteries. She is thus recognized as a founding mother of the movement of spiritual women know as the Béguines.
An Example of a Virtuous Life.
The story of the life of Marie d'Oignies was written by Jacques de Vitry, who had relayed stories of virtuous Béguines to the papal curia. Jacques de Vitry had begun his career as an Augustinian canon and for one year was a neighbor and confessor to Marie, along with being a disciple of her spirituality. His biography of Marie d'Oignies was written to show the heretics of Languedoc an example of what a truly holy woman's life should be. Jacques wrote of Marie's extreme piety, her disdain for her fleshly self, and the inspiration that he drew from her criticisms of his own life of spiritual inadequacy. When Jacques became bishop, he used his stories to help the Béguines gain from Rome some type of temporary recognition, although he could not get them formally approved as an order. Gregory IX's bull Gloriam Virginalem did later recognize these chaste virgin women of Germany and afford them papal protection.
Marie Conn, Noble Daughters (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000).
Thomas de Cantimpré, Supplement to the Life of Marie d'Oignies. Trans. Hugh Feiss (Saskatoon, Canada: Peregrina, 1987).
Jacques de Vitry, The Life of Marie D'Oignies. Trans. Margot H. King (Saskatoon, Canada: Peregrina, 1986).
Saskia Murk-Jansen, Brides in the Desert: Spirituality of the Béguines (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998).