Historical Figures

Marguerite Porete, subversive writer

Marguerite Porete (circa 1250 – 1310) was a Christian mystical writer and poet. His book The Mirror of Simple Destroyed Souls , exploring the love of God, shocked the Church of the time. Today, it is increasingly considered a major work of the Middle Ages.

The freedom of beguines

The story of Marguerite Porete is poorly known. Originally from the County of Hainaut and probably from Valenciennes, she was born around 1250. No information has come down to us about her family or her childhood, but Marguerite, showing a solid theological culture as a layman, probably received a good education.

Marguerite is considered a beguine (or a wandering beguine), those generally single or widowed women who form secular religious communities. Very widespread in Flanders, the beguines live according to a monastic rule but do not make any perpetual vows. They live in beguinages (as can be seen in Bruges, Louvain, Kortrijk, etc.), made up of small individual houses set up around a central garden and a church. The beguines enjoy great freedom, freeing themselves from male domination while continuing to live in the world, within the cities. Moreover, being secular, they are not under the authority of the Church and this feminine freedom quickly displeases the institution.

The Mirror of Simple Souls Destroyed

Around 1290, Marguerite Porete published her book, The Mirror of simple souls annihilated and who only remain in want and desire for love, which deals with divine love. She writes this mystical work, both of theology and poetry, in the vernacular (in langue d'oïl) to make it more accessible, and not in Latin as the rule dictates. Very avant-garde, the Mirror of simple annihilated souls advocates material stripping, submission to God and Nature, meditation on oneself or even unity between God and human beings. Her thought is complex and subversive, and Marguerite does not mince her words, especially towards the Church:"These people whom I call donkeys, they seek God in creatures, in monasteries through prayers, in created paradises, human words and scriptures. »

His book quickly met with success and scandal. The Church sees in it an approach aimed at doing without the institution, and attacking its foundations, including the sacraments. The quality of beguine of its author, and her de facto freedom, can only harm her. The Mirror of the Destroyed Mere was condemned for heresy in 1300. In 1306, the bishop of Cambrai, Gui de Colle Medio, had a copy burned on the Place d'Armes in Valenciennes. Despite this initial conviction, Marguerite did not withdraw her book and persisted in circulating it. She was then denounced to the Inquisition by the Bishop of Chalons, both for her work and for having been relapsed by falling back into heresy after a first conviction. The trial concerning these two accusations leads, after judgment by a commission of theologians and a group of canonists, to the double condemnation of the book and its author.

On June 1, 1310, three weeks after the execution of fifty-four Templars, Marguerite Porete was burned alive in Place de Grève in Paris. His book survives him, in a 15th century manuscript that modernizes the original text.