A beguinage, from the French term béguinage, is an architectural complex which was created to house beguines: lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world.
Originally the beguine institution was the convent, an association of beguines living together or in close proximity of each other under the guidance of a single superior, called a mistress or prioress. Although they were not usually referred as "convent", in these houses dwelt a small number of women together: the houses small, informal, and often poor communities that emerged across Europe after the twelfth century. In most cases, beguines who lived in a convent agreed to obey certain regulations during their stay and contributed to a collective fund.
In the first decades of the thirteenth century much larger and more stable types of community emerged in the region of the Low Countries: large court beguinages were formed which consisted of several houses for beguines built around a central chapel or church where their religious activities took place, and often included also functional buildings such as a brewery, a bakery, a hospital, and farm buildings. Several of these beguinages are now listed by UNESCO as World Heritage. By the mid-thirteenth century, the French king Louis IX founded a beguinage in Paris, which was modeled on the court beguinages of the Low Countries.