Life was tough for women in the 13th century, especially those who had lost their husbands and protectors to the Crusades. Experts believe this was the origin of the "beguines
— a Roman Catholic laic order that began in the 13th century and branched across northwest Europe."
The sisterhood allowed women to live together for protection, but yet go into society as healers without the oversight of men. Today several groups still exist, mostly in Belgium, and are visited by Richard B. Woodward for an article in the New York Times.