The beguines and Het Anker

Brewery ‘Het Anker’ started brewing beer five generations ago in the Grand Beguinage of Mechelen. Historically beguinages were founded in the time of the crusades. Many of the men who left on a crusade never returned, leaving behind their widows or orphaned daughters. The convent was one solution, but not for everyone.

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Some of these women decided to live together instead and were soon able to sustain themselves. You could describe a beguinage as a small town within a city. They often had their own bakery, nursing home and church.  The main difference with a convent is that the beguines did not take the life-long vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. In other words, they were not tied to the beguinage for life, even though most of them stayed until death.  Beguines had to work for their living, which is one reason why lace-making became an important activity in for instance Mechelen and Bruges.

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At the beginning of the 15th century, the beguinage of Mechelen had a strong presence in the town as it possessed an important hospital.  In 1471, Charles the Bold decided that beguines should not pay taxes on the beer they brewed for the hospital. The beguins soon started their own brewery to comfort the sick and dying.

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In 1872, the brewery was acquired by Louis Van Breedam, who built a modern brewery with a steam boiler. Louis Van Breedam also renamed the brewery to ‘Het Anker’ in 1904. The name finds its origin in the oldest known reference to the brewery. The 1369 accounts of St. Rumbold’s Cathedral refer to a certain ‘Jan in de Anker’ who dutifully paid his taxes. So even thoug ‘Het Anker’ translates as ‘The Anchor’, their is no link with any ship or sailor.  The current owner, Charles Leclef, is the fifth generation of the Van Breedam family to run the brewery.

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A visit to the brewery will reveal all the secrets of the brewing process. At the end of the last century, ‘Het Anker’ also opened a 3 star hotel within the brewery, with 22 spacious and very comfortable rooms. During breakfast, guests have a unique view on the awakening brewery. Staying for dinner is also highly recommended. The menu at the restaurant pairs the beers of the brewery with typical regional dishes. It is obvious that the spirit of hospitality and caring for others, dating back to the beguines in the fifteenth century, is still very much alive in brewery Het Anker.