Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen composed hymns.
I first knew Hildegard von Bingen as a song creator because I sang Gregorian chant in St. Ignatius church in San Francisco.
Hildegard was also a playwright whose lyrical drama Ordo Virtutum gave the nuns an opportunity to frolic in silk gowns and jewels.
Hildegard was a scholar who amassed a library at a time when books were rare and difficult to obtain.
She was science minded and was a practitioner of holistic medicine with advanced knowledge of herbal healing.
Much of our knowledge about Hildegarde von Bingen is based on a biography written by two contemporary monks, Godefrid and Theodoric.
The tenth child in a noble family, Hildegarde was placed under the care of a Catholic anchoress named Jutta, at the age of eight.
Jutta was a recluse who set up a Benedictine community just outside of Bingen.
Benedictine nuns lived hermetic lives and spent most of their time alone in meditation.
Influenced by Jutta’s devotional lifestyle, Hildegarde dedicated herself to the church.
Although she claimed to have had supernatural visions as an infant, she hid her prophetic ability, revealing it only to Jutta, who died when Hildegarde was 38.
In 1136, Hildegarde assumed the role of Mother Superior of the convent.
In 1147, she moved the convent to Rupertsberg, a town near Bingen, as urged by one of her visions.
Although never formally educated and unable to write, Hildegarde quickly became a well-regarded authority and gave influential advice, relying on secretaries to transcribe her ideas onto paper.
She was an idolized visionary who earned a saint-like status and name, despite her lack of official beatification.
Hildegarde herself created a drawing, or illumination, in her manuscript Scivias (Know the Ways), circa 1140–50, of her defining vision, in which the great span of the universe revealed itself to her in a trance as “round and shadowy…pointed at the top, like an egg…its outermost layer of a bright fire.”
On 7 October 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named Hildegard von Bingen a Doctor of the Church.
Hildegard has become well known among feminist scholars.
She called herself a member of the “weaker sex” and she severely judged other 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.
Hildegard had 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, which is the act of selling church offices and roles.
The practice is named after Simon Magus, who is described in the Acts of the Apostles 8:9–24 as having offered two disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, payment in exchange for their empowering him to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to anyone on whom he would place his hands.
For some years now Hildegard has been an admired figure in the New Age movement, mostly due to her holistic and natural view of healing, as well as her status as a mystic.
It is quite probable that Hildegard von Bingen invented the morality play.
Hildegard’s musical compositions are the best-preserved body of work by any medieval composer, and her work is so completely original that it is a delight to sing.
Her medical treatises and herbals rank with the most sophisticated works of her day.
She thought about and wrote about theology and cosmology, instructing the greatest minds of her day in the fine points of the composition of heavenly spheres, not to mention the relationship of the planets to both the human form and the divine.
- There is the Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.
- When the words come, they are merely empty shells without the music. They live as they are sung, for the words are the body and the music the spirit.
- Every element has a sound, an original sound from the order of God; all those sounds unite like the harmony from harps and zithers.
• The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.
Hildegard von Bingen wrote this in the twelth century of our era:
• Now in the people that were meant to be green there is no more life of any kind. There is only shriveled barrenness. The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples. The earth should not be injured! The earth must not be destroyed!