Priest and reformer (c1149-c1182)
Lambert the Stammerer was born into a wealthy family in Liège. Despite his congenital speech impediment, he became a fervent Christian and was ordained. In 1179 he financed the building of St Christopher’s Church in Liège, and surrounded it with several houses in which he offered refuge to women who wished to live a quasi-monastic life. Some historians derive the name béguine for these nuns (and béguinage for the buildings) from Lambert’s French name (Lambert le Bègue). Others claim the name comes from St Begue (or Begge), sister of St Gertrude, who founded a community of nuns in Liège in 692 AD. Whatever its origins, the béguinage lifestyle became popular, and they were built all over the Low Countries, France and Germany. Some béguine communities have survived (e.g. in Bruges) other have disappeared or been suppressed, but their buildings survive. In 1180, Lambert was imprisoned by the Prince-Bishop at Rochefort for denouncing clergy corruption, and translated the Acts of the Apostles from Latin to French during his imprisonment. Sent for trial as a heretic in Rome, he was instead pardoned by the Pope and licensed to preach in Liège. He returned to the city, where he is buried in St Christopher’s Church. He is recognised today as one of the earliest Catholic feminists.