The Begijnhof is one of the oldest hofjes in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A group of historic buildings, mostly private dwellings, center on it. As the name suggests, it was originally a Béguinage. Today it is also the site of two churches, the Catholic Houten Huys and the English Reformed Church. 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 nearby 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.