Movements of laymen outside monasteries which in one way or another sought a more earnest practice of the Christian faith multiplied during these centuries.
Prominent among them were the third orders of the various bodies of friars, to which we have already referred.
Confraternities, associations of lay folk, bound together by rules and vows under the authorization of a bishop, were a growing feature of the life of the Church. One is said to have been founded not far from the beginning of the thirteenth century.
Earlier we have noted the singing guilds which began in Italy in the twelfth century. In the second half of the thirteenth century they became organized, with chapels and other meeting places and with written constitutions.They went in procession through towns, or met in the evenings on piazzas or before some shrine to sing hymns of penitence and adoration. Their singing was in the vernacular.
A movement which is said to have begun in Perugia in 1259 was that of the Flagellants. By a kind of mass contagion men, women, and children bewailed their sins and many of them marched through the streets, naked except for loin cloths, crying to God for mercy, and scourging themselves until the blood ran. Old enmities were forgiven and enemies were reconciled. Criminals confessed their misdeeds and where possible made restitution. Murderers asked pardon of the relatives of those whom they had killed. In some places priests headed the processions and led them to churches where the penitents prostrated themselves before the altars. The Flagellants spread beyond Italy to Germany and Bohemia, but subsided almost as quickly as they arose.
The beguines comprised a variety of lay groups which seem not to have been confined to any specific set of forms and to have displayed wide variety. They were made up originally of women, but the designation later was also given to men. The origin of the name is in dispute. At the outset and to a certain extent for some centuries, the term appears to have been applied to an unmarried woman who followed the life of virginity while living in the world. The beguines wore a distinguishing garb. Some of them lived alone or with their families. Others had a collective life in beguine houses. These houses were not monasteries. No vows of poverty were taken. Some beguines were wealthy and others were from the poorer classes. Occasionally widows were in the houses. Many of the beguines were assimilated to the third orders of the friars. Indeed, the growth of the beguines seems to have been stimulated by the example of the Franciscans and Dominicans and some of the beguine houses were associated with houses of the Franciscans. In 1311 the Council of Vienne under Pope Clement V took action against the beguines on the ground that they were channels for the spread of heresy. However, in one form or another they survived into the sixteenth century.
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