"But although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and low opinion of myself and because of diverse
sayings of men, I refused for a long time a call to write, not out of stubbornness but out of humility, until weighed down
by a scourge of god, I fell onto a bed of sickness."
- Hildegard of Bingen
Born near Alzey into a noble family, Hildegard was placed, at the age
of nine, into the hands of Jutta, a recluse in Disenberg, by her parents (Hildebert and Mechthild) in a pious act of faith. This allotted Hildegard with the opportunity to learn to read in Latin (especially
the Psalms) and to chant the monastic Office. In 1116 Hildegard became a nun within the Benedictine monastery. Twenty years later, following the death of Jutta, she was elected the abbess of the Benedictine community.
Struggling throughout her life with sickness, Hildegard always held a
sense of the ‘other’ in that she often saw things that others couldn’t, had a sense for things of the future
and often described to Jutta and her secretary and friend Volmar, a sense of light. Contemporary scholars have commented that
all of these things appear to indicate that Hildegard suffered from a severe form of migraine.
In 1141 Hildegard experienced a vision that she records in her book Scivias in which she writes,
And behold! In the forty-third year of my earthly
course, as I was gazing with great
trembling attention at a heavenly vision,
a great splendor in which resounded
from Heaven, saying to me, “O fragile
of ashes, and filth of filth! Say and write
see and hear.
(Hildegard of Bingen. Scivias. 1990.)
Scivias appears in three volumes and is the first work to detail her visions and experiences. The first volume contains six visions focusing on the creator and creation.
The second volume details seven visions that speak to redemption. The
third volume houses thirteen visions entitled that center around salvation. Each
of these visions are detailed and descriptive, but they only begin to pull the reader of today into her experience.
Throughout her work she never aspired to claim authority for herself
and sought very earnestly to have her writings accepted by the patriarchal culture – especially the pope. Pope Eugenius
received incomplete drafts of her writings and approved greatly of them, thus he read excepts from these to the synod of bishops
in Trier in 1147-1148.
to her literary works, Hildegard undertook both artistic and musical endeavors - all of which were closely linked
to her visionary experiences. Her drawings are called 'illuminations' and often convey a journey or process.
These illuminations never appear as static images - but pull the viewer into an experience with God and the power
Her music itself
is an art of mystery and she is considered by many to be a musical genius, although she herself saw her work in
a more humble view. She writes of her musical abilities, "I composed and chanted plainsong in praise of God
and the saints even though I had never studied either musical notation or singing." During her lifetime she composed
77 chants and the first musical drama in history, The Ritual of the Virtues. Hildegard's musical training came
from her time as a youth in the monastery during the singing of the Divine Office. The Office was sung eight times a
day - which meant that Hildegard was spending time singing at least four hours a day! Most of the music that she wrote
was written expressly for the Divine Office.
A women who
took on many roles, Hildegard also was known as a preacher. Between 1158 and 1171 she undertook three preaching
tours - during which she visited monestaries and convents along the Rhine and Main rivers in Germany, and as far
as Switzerland. Following these times of preaching the hearers would often request written transcipts of her sermons
- these have been included within the major body of her work which exists to this day.
a prophetic woman who sought only to answer the call to "say and write" what she saw and heard. Setting the stage for
many women Hildegard broke ground in many areas, including writing (both spiritual and scientific), music, art and preaching.
Hildegard died in 1179 and was buried in Ruppertsburg. And although the process of information (the beginning steps
of the Catholic church declaring a person a saint) was begun on four seperate occasions by four seperate popes (Gregory IX,
Innocent IV, Clement V and John XXII) there has been no formal cannonization. She is nonetheless celebrated within the
church on September 17.
A FEW STATISTICS
* Authored 9 books - Scivias, Book of Life's
Book of Divine Works,
The Book of Subtleties of the
Diverse Nature of Things
(focusing on natural history
and the curative powers
of natural things), plus five
other books (including a commentary on
and a commentary on the Athanasian Creed)
* Authored 70 poems
* Composed 72 chants
* Composed the first musical drama by a woman
* Over 100 letter of hers written to emperors, popes,
bishops, nuns and nobility are still available
* Founded a monastery in Bingen