Hildegard of Bingen


Born: 1098 Died: September 17, 1179
In the summer of 1098, a child was born to noble parents in Bermersheim, near Alzey, in modern-day Rheinhessen, and was christened Hildegard. By her own account, she was having visions at the age of five; her parents placed her in the care of a small nunnery when she was eight. Over an 81-year life-span, this remarkable woman would go on to lead the Abbey at Disibodenberg, and found two further convents of her own; she wrote three major theological works and a number of shorter treatises on natural history, herbalism, and healing, as well as the first surviving morality play and a large number of hymns and sequences. Her correspondence gave counsel and advice to many of the most prominent figures of her time, even to Frederick Barbarossa himself. She performed healings and a celebrated exorcism, and -- an extremely rare privilege for a woman -- took several officially sanctioned public preaching tours.

Hildebert and Mechtild, her parents, had promised this (their tenth child) to the Church's service, and gave the precocious 8-year-old as novice to Jutta of Spanheim, who led a small cell of nuns attached to the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg, near Bingen and the cathedral town of Mainz. Hildegard took her vows at the age of 15, and on Jutta's death in 1136 succeeded her as prioress of the small eremitic community. In 1141, God granted her a vision of flaming tongues descending upon her from heaven, and she devoted her life to following this mystic vision. Pope Eugenius III officially validated her religious visions at the Synod of Trier in 1148, and gave her permission to record them in written form. In addition to her writings, she began to attract further women to her community, and, between 1147 and 1150, she founded (against the wishes of her male superiors at Disibodenberg) a new abbey at Rupertsberg in the Rhine valley. Her ministry thrived and she established a daughter abbey at Eibingen around 1165. Four times in the 1160s she took preaching tours through the German lands, and after her death in 1179, Popes Gregory IX and Innocent IV proposed her canonization, followed by Clement V and John XXII, to no avail.

With the aid and encouragement of her monastic secretary Volmar, Hildegard began in 1141 to record her revelations; twenty-six visions comprise her first work, the Scivias, compiled over a ten-year period. Her prophetic and apocalyptic writings would later include the Liber vite meritorum (1158-63) and Liber divinorum operum (1163-70). In the interval between these volumes, Hildegard wrote two works on natural history (Physica) and medicine (Cause et cure), a commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, lives of two saints, and a number of surviving sermons on sundry topics. Her interest in devotional poetry first shows up in the Scivias. In the early 1150s, she collected a large number of liturgical and devotional poems, each with associated music, such as the Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum, which also included her liturgical drama the Ordo virtutem. This work she continued to enlarge and embellish through her life. The "Sybil of the Rhine" also left a voluminous correspondence -- some three hundred surviving letters -- sending advice, prayers, teachings, encouragements, and often chastisement to popes, emperors, kings, archbishops, abbots and abbesses throughout Europe.

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