|St. Hildegard von Bingen, O.S.B.|
Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary
|Doctor of the Church, Sibyl of the Rhine|
Bermersheim vor der Höhe, County Palatine of the Rhine, Holy Roman Empire
|Died||17 September 1179 (aged 81)
Bingen am Rhein, County Palatine of the Rhine, Holy Roman Empire
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church
(Order of St. Benedict), Anglican Communion, Lutheranism
|Canonized||10 May 2012 (equivalent canonization), Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI|
|Major shrine||Eibingen Abbey
Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B. (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis) (1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play.
She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising brilliant miniature illuminations.
Although the history of her formal recognition as a saint is complicated, she has been recognized as a saint by parts of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. On 7 October 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named her a Doctor of the Church.
BiographyHildegard's date of birth is uncertain. She may have been born in the year 1098. Sickly from birth, Hildegard was her parents' tenth child and raised by a family of free nobles. In her Vita, Hildegard explains that from a very young age she had experienced visions.
Monastic lifePerhaps due to Hildegard's visions, or as a method of political positioning, Hildegard's parents, Hildebert and Mechthilde, offered her as an oblate to the church. The date of Hildegard's enclosure in the church is the subject of a contentious debate. Her Vita says she was enclosed with an older nun, Jutta, at the age of eight. However, Jutta's enclosure date is known to be in 1112, at which time Hildegard would have been fourteen. Some scholars speculate that Hildegard was placed in the care of Jutta, the daughter of Count Stephan II of Sponheim, at the age of eight, and the two women were enclosed together six years later. There is no written record of the twenty-four years Hildegard lived in the convent with Jutta. It is possible that Hildegard could have been a chantress and a worker in the herbarium and infirmarium.
In any case, Hildegard and Jutta were enclosed at Disibodenberg in the Palatinate Forest in what is now Germany. Jutta was also a visionary and thus attracted many followers who came to visit her at the enclosure. Hildegard also tells us that Jutta taught her to read and write, but that she was unlearned and therefore incapable of teaching Hildegard Biblical interpretation. Hildegard and Jutta most likely prayed, meditated, read scriptures such as the psalter, and did some sort of handwork during the hours of the Divine Office. This also might have been a time when Hildegard learned how to play the ten-stringed psaltery. Volmar, a frequent visitor, may have taught Hildegard simple psalm notation. The time she studied music could also have been the beginning of the compositions she would later create.
Upon Jutta's death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected as "magistra" of the community by her fellow nuns. Abbot Kuno of Disibodenberg also asked Hildegard to be Prioress, which would be under his authority. Hildegard, however, wanted more independence for herself and her nuns and asked Abbot Kuno to allow them to move to Rupertsberg. This was to be a move towards poverty, from a stone complex that was well established to a temporary dwelling place. When the abbot declined Hildegard's proposition, Hildegard went over his head and received the approval of Archbishop Henry I of Mainz. Abbot Kuno did not relent, however, until Hildegard was stricken by an illness that kept her paralyzed and unable to move from her bed, an event that she attributed to God's unhappiness at her not following his orders to move her nuns to Rupertsberg. It was only when the Abbot himself could not move Hildegard that he decided to grant the nuns their own monastery. Hildegard and about twenty nuns thus moved to the St. Rupertsberg monastery in 1150, where Volmar served as provost, as well as Hildegard's confessor and scribe. In 1165 Hildegard founded a second monastery for her nuns at Eibingen.
VisionsHildegard says that she first saw "The Shade of the Living Light" at the age of three, and by the age of five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions. She used the term 'visio' to this feature of her experience, and recognized that it was a gift that she could not explain to others. Hildegard explained that she saw all things in the light of God through the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Hildegard was hesitant to share her visions, confiding only to Jutta, who in turn told Volmar, Hildegard's tutor and, later, secretary. Throughout her life, she continued to have many visions, and in 1141, at the age of 42, Hildegard received a vision she believed to be an instruction from God, to "write down that which you see and hear." Still hesitant to record her visions, Hildegard became physically ill. The illustrations recorded in the book of Scivias were visions that Hildegard experienced, causing her great suffering and tribulations. In her first theological text, Scivias ("Know the Ways"), Hildegard describes her struggle within:
But I, though I saw and heard these things, refused to write for a long time through doubt and bad opinion and the diversity of human words, not with stubbornness but in the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness; then, compelled at last by many illnesses, and by the witness of a certain noble maiden of good conduct [the nun Richardis von Stade] and of that man whom I had secretly sought and found, as mentioned above, I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition; and, raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close – though just barely – in ten years. [...] And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, 'Cry out therefore, and write thus!'Hildegard's Vita was begun by Godfrey of Disibodenberg under Hildegard's supervision. It was between November 1147 and February 1148 at the synod in Trier that Pope Eugenus heard about Hildegard’s writings. It was from this that she received Papal approval to document her visions as revelations from the Holy Spirit giving her instant credence.
Before Hildegard’s death, a problem arose with the clergy of Mainz. A man buried in Rupertsburg had died after excommunication from the Church. Therefore, the clergy wanted to remove his body from the sacred ground. Hildegard did not accept this idea, replying that it was a sin and that the man had been reconciled to the church at the time of his death.
On 17 September 1179, when Hildegard died, her sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she was dying.
WorksHildegard's musical, literary, and scientific writings are housed primarily in two manuscripts: the Dendermonde manuscript and the Riesenkodex. The Dendermonde manuscript was copied under Hildegard's supervision at Rupertsberg, while the Riesencodex was copied in the century after Hildegard's death.
MusicChurch has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard, particularly her music. In addition to the Ordo Virtutum, sixty-nine musical compositions, each with its own original poetic text, survive, and at least four other texts are known, though their musical notation has been lost. This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. Hildegard also wrote nearly 400 letters to correspondents ranging from Popes to Emperors to abbots and abbesses; two volumes of material on natural medicine and cures; an invented language called the Lingua ignota; various minor works, including a gospel commentary and two works of hagiography; and three great volumes of visionary theology: Scivias, Liber vitae meritorum ("Book of Life's Merits" or "Book of the Rewards of Life"), and Liber divinorum operum ("Book of Divine Works").
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In addition to the Ordo Virtutum Hildegard composed many liturgical songs that were collected into a cycle called the Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum. The songs from the Symphonia are set to Hildegard’s own text and range from antiphons, hymns, and sequences, to responsories. Her music is described as monophonic; that is, consisting of exactly one melodic line. Hildegard's compositional style is characterized by soaring melodies, often well outside of the normal range of chant at the time. Additionally, scholars such as Margot Fassler and Marianna Richert Pfau describe Hildegard's music as highly melismatic, often with recurrent melodic units, and also note her close attention to the relationship between music and text, which was a rare occurrence in monastic chant of the twelfth century. Hildegard of Bingen’s songs are left open for rhythmic interpretation because of the use of neumes without a staff. The reverence for the Virgin Mary reflected in music shows how deeply influenced and inspired Hildegard of Bingen and her community were by the Virgin Mary and the saints.
The definition of viriditas or ‘greenness’ is an earthly expression of the heavenly in an integrity that overcomes dualisms. This ‘greenness’ or power of life appears frequently in Hildegard’s works.
Recent scholars have asserted that Hildegard made a close association between music and the female body in her musical compositions. The poetry and music of Hildegard’s Symphonia is concerned with the anatomy of female desire thus described as Sapphonic, or pertaining to Sappho, connecting her to a history of female rhetoricians.
MysticismIn addition to her music, Hildegard also wrote three books of visions, the first of which, her Scivias ("Know the Way"), was completed in 1151. Liber vitae meritorum ("Book of Life's Merits" or "Book of the Rewards of Life") and Liber divinorum operum ("Book of Divine Works", also known as De operatione Dei, "On God's Activity") followed. In these volumes, the last of which was completed when she was about 75, Hildegard first describes each vision, then interprets them through Biblical exegesis.
The narrative of her visions was richly decorated under her direction, with transcription assistance provided by the monk Volmar and nun Richardis. The book was celebrated in the Middle Ages, in part because of the approval given to it by Pope Eugenius III, and was later printed in Paris in 1513.
Herbal medicineHildegard also wrote Physica, a text on the natural sciences, as well as Causae et Curae. Hildegard of Bingen was well known for her healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones. In both texts Hildegard describes the natural world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals.
She combined these elements with a theological notion ultimately derived from Genesis: all things put on earth are for the use of humans. She is particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones, though she also questions God's effect on man's health. One example of her healing powers was curing the blind with the use of Rhine water.
Alphabetalternative alphabet. The text of her writing and compositions reveals Hildegard's use of this form of modified medieval Latin, encompassing many invented, conflated and abridged words. Due to her inventions of words for her lyrics and use of a constructed script, many conlangers look upon her as a medieval precursor. Scholars believe that Hildegard used her Lingua Ignota to increase solidarity among her nuns.
During her lifetimeMaddocks claims that it is likely Hildegard learned simple Latin and the tenets of the Christian faith but was not instructed in the Seven Liberal Arts, which formed the basis of all education for the learned classes in the Middle Ages: the Trivium of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric plus the Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. The correspondence she kept with the outside world, both spiritual and social, transgressed the cloister as a space of female confinement and served to document Hildegard’s grand style and strict formatting of medieval letter writing.
Contributing to Christian European rhetorical traditions, Hildegard "authorized herself as a theologian" through alternative rhetorical arts. Hildegard was creative in her interpretation of theology. She believed that her monastery should exclude novices who were not from the nobility because she did not want her community to be divided on the basis of social status. She also stated that "woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman."
 Hildegard’s participation in these arts speaks to her significance as a female rhetorician, transcending bans on women's social participation and interpretation of scripture. The acceptance of public preaching by a woman, even a well-connected abbess and acknowledged prophet, does not fit the stereotype of this time. Her preaching was not limited to the monasteries; she preached publicly in 1160 in Germany. (New York: Routledge, 2001, 9). She conducted four preaching tours throughout Germany, speaking to both clergy and laity in chapter houses and in public, mainly denouncing clerical corruption and calling for reform.
Many abbots and abbesses asked her for prayers and opinions on various matters. She traveled widely during her four preaching tours. She had several fanatical followers, including Guibert of Gembloux, who wrote to her frequently and became her secretary after Volmar's death in 1173. Hildegard also influenced several monastic women, exchanging letters with Elisabeth of Schönau, a nearby visionary.
Hildegard corresponded with popes such as Eugene III and Anastasius IV, statesmen such as Abbot Suger, German emperors such as Frederick I Barbarossa, and other notable figures such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who advanced her work, at the behest of her abbot, Kuno, at the Synod of Trier in 1147 and 1148. Hildegard of Bingen's correspondence is an important component of her literary output.
Beatification, canonization and recognition as a Doctor of the ChurchHildegard was one of the first persons for whom the Roman canonization process was officially applied, but the process took so long that four attempts at canonization were not completed and she remained at the level of her beatification. Her name was nonetheless taken up in the Roman Martyrology at the end of the sixteenth century. Her feast day is 17 September. Numerous popes have referred to Hildegard as a saint, including Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of St. Hildegard to the entire Catholic Church in a process known as "equivalent canonization," thus laying the groundwork for naming her a Doctor of the Church. On 7 October 2012, the feast of the Holy Rosary, the Pope named her a Doctor of the Church, the fourth woman of 35 saints given that title by the Roman Catholic Church. He called her "perennially relevant" and "an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music."
Hildegard of Bingen also appears in the calendar of saints of various Anglican churches, such as that of the Church of England in which she is commemorated on 17 September.
Hildegard's parish and pilgrimage church in Eibingen near Rüdesheim houses her relics.
20th-century interest Hildegard's reincarnation has been debated since 1924 when Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner lectured that a nun of her description was the past life of Russian poet Vladimir Soloviev, whose Sophianic visions are often compared to Hildegard. Sophiologist Robert Powell writes that hermetic astrology proves the match, and artist mystic Carl Schroeder claims to also be in the same lineage of Hildegard with the support and validation of reincarnation researchers Walter Semkiw and Kevin Ryerson.
In recent years, Hildegard has become of particular interest to feminist scholars. They note her reference to herself as a member of the "weaker sex" and her rather constant belittling of women. Hildegard frequently referred to herself as an unlearned woman, completely incapable of Biblical exegesis. Such a statement on her part, however, worked to her advantage because it made her statements that all of her writings and music came from visions of the Divine more believable, therefore giving Hildegard the authority to speak in a time and place where few women were permitted a voice. Hildegard used her voice to condemn church practices she disagreed with, in particular simony.
In space, the minor planet 898 Hildegard is named for her.
In film, Hildegard has been portrayed by Patricia Routledge in a BBC documentary called "Hildegard of Bingen" (1994) and by Barbara Sukowa in the film Vision, directed by Margarethe von Trotta.
Hildegard was the subject of a 2012 fictionalized biographic novel "Illuminations" by Mary Sharratt.
The first single of the album Mala by folk singer Devendra Banhart is named after her.