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Hildegard of Bingen


As on 1 March 2010



Taken from: Wikipedia - Hildegard of Bingen



Introduction


Hildegard of Bingen (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis; 1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Blessed Hildegard and Saint Hildegard, was a German abbess, author, counselor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, visionary and composer. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165.

She is a composer with an extant biography from her own time. One of her works, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama. She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, poems, and the first surviving morality play, while supervising brilliant miniature Illuminations.



Biography


Hildegard was raised in a family of free nobles. She was the 10th child, sickly from birth. In her Vita, Hildegard explains that from a very young age she had experienced visions.

Perhaps due to Hildegard's visions, or as a method of political positioning, Hildegard's parents, Hildebert and Mechthilde, offered her as a tithe to the church. The date of Hildegard's enclosure in the church is contentious. Her vita tells us she was enclosed with another older nun Jutta at the age of eight, though 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, before the two women were enclosed together six years later. 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.

Upon Jutta's death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected as "magistra," or leader, of her sister community by her fellow nuns. Abbot Kuno, the Abbot of Disibodenberg, also asked Hildegard to be Prioress. Hildegard, however, wanted more independence for herself and her nuns and asked Abbot Kuno to allow them to move to Rupertsberg. 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 convent for her nuns at Eibingen.

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. In her first theological text, Scivias, or "Know the Ways," Hildegard describes her struggle within:

But I, though I saw and heard those 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 vivid description of the physical sensations which accompanied her visions have been diagnosed by neurologist (and popular author) Oliver Sacks as symptoms of migraine, in particular because of her description of light. Sacks, as well as other scholars, argue that the illuminations that appear in Hildegard's manuscripts confirm that Hildegard suffered from 'scintillating scotoma.' Hildegard's vita was begun by Godfrey of Disibodenberg under Hildegard's supervision.



Works


Attention in recent decades to women of the medieval church has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard, particularly of her music. Between 70 and 80 compositions have survived, which is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. Hildegard is the first composer whose biography is known.

One of her better known works, Ordo Virtutum, or Play of the Virtues, is a morality play. The morality play consists of monophonic melodies for the Anima (human soul) and 16 Virtues. There is also one speaking part for the Devil. Scholars assert that the role of the Devil would have been played by Volmar, while the Hildegard's nuns would have played the parts of Anima and the Virtues.

In addition to the Ordo Virtutum Hildegard composed many liturgical songs that were collected into a cycle called the Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum. Her music is described as monophonic; that is, consisting of exactly one melodic line, and designed for limited instrumental accompaniment. Hildegard's compositional is characterized by soaring soprano vocalisations, 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.

In 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") and De operatione Dei ("Of God's Activities", also known as Liber divinorum operum or "Book of Divine Works") 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 was 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 copied in Paris in 1513.

Aside from her books of visions, Hildegard also wrote her Physica, a text on the natural sciences, as well as Causae et Curae. In both texts Hildegard describes the natural world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals. She is particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones, though she also questions God's effect on man's health.

Hildegard also invented an alternative 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 a constructed script, many conlangers look upon her as a medieval precursor. Scholars believe that Hildegard used her Lingua Ignotae to increase solidarity among her nuns.

Hildegard'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.

Mutterschaft aus dem Geiste und dem Wasser (Motherhood from the Spirit and the Water), 1165 Hildegard's visionary writings maintain that virginity is the highest level of the spiritual life; however, she also wrote about secular life, including motherhood. In several of her texts, Hildegard describes a female orgasm:

When a woman is making love with a man, a sense of heat in her brain, which brings with it sensual delight, communicates the taste of that delight during the act and summons forth the emission of the man's seed. And when the seed has fallen into its place, that vehement heat descending from her brain draws the seed to itself and holds it, and soon the woman's sexual organs contract, and all the parts that are ready to open up during the time of menstruation now close, in the same way as a strong man can hold something enclosed in his fist.


In addition, there are many instances, both in her letters and visions, that decry the misuse of carnal pleasures. For instance, in Scivias Book II Vision Six.78:

God united man and woman, thus joining the strong to the weak, that each might sustain the other. But these perverted adulterers change their virile strength into perverse weakness, rejecting the proper male and female roles, and in their wickedness they shamefully follow Satan, who in his pride sought to split and divide Him Who is indivisible. They create in themselves by their wicked deeds a strange and perverse adultery, and so appear polluted and shameful in my sight...

...a woman who takes up devilish ways and plays a male role in coupling with another woman is most vile in My sight, and so is she who subjects herself to such a one in this evil deed...

...And men who touch their own genital organ and emit their semen seriously imperil their souls, for they excite themselves to distraction; they appear to Me as impure animals devouring their own whelps, for they wickedly produce their semen only for abusive pollution...

...When a person feels himself disturbed by bodily stimulation let him run to the refuge of continence, and seize the shield of chastity, and thus defend himself from uncleanness




Significance


Hildegard communicated 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.

Many abbots and abbesses asked her for prayers and opinions on various matters. She traveled widely during her four preaching tours. She had several rather fanatic followers, including Guibert of Gembloux, who wrote frequently to Hildegard and eventually became her secretary after Volmar passed away in 1173. In addition, Hildegard influenced several monastic women of her time and the centuries that followed; in particular, she engaged in correspondence with another nearby visionary, Elisabeth of Schonau.

Contributing to Christian European rhetorical traditions, Hildegard “authorized herself as a theologian” through alternative rhetorical arts . Due to church limitation on public, discursive rhetoric, the medieval rhetorical arts included: preaching, letter writing, poetry, and the encyclopedic tradition. Hildegard’s participation in these arts speaks to her significance as a female rhetorician, transcending banns on women’s social participation and interpretation of scriptures. While Hildegard was barred access from preaching through homilies or sermons, her prophesies served as a means of preaching most of her life. Engaged in rhetoric by writing the first morality or mystery play, she was able to disseminate her message to large audiences. 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. The poetry and music of Hildegard’s Symphonia is described by as Sapphonic, or pertaining to Sappho, connecting her to a history of female rhetoricians.

In recent years, Hildegard has become of particular interest to feminist scholars. Her reference to herself as a member of the "weaker sex" and her rather constant belittling of women, though at first seemingly problematic, must be considered within the context of the patriarchal church hierarchy. 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 when few women were permitted a voice. Hildegard used her voice to condemn church practices she disagreed with, in particular simony.

Hildegard has also become a figure of reverence within the contemporary New Age movement, mostly due to her holistic and natural view of healing, as well as her status as a mystic. She was the inspiration for Dr. Gottfried Hertzka's "Hildegard-Medicine," and is the namesake for June Boyce-Tillman's Hildegard Network, a healing center that focuses on a holistic approach to wellness.

Hildegard was one of the first persons for whom the 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.

Hildegard's name was taken up in the Roman Martyrology at the end of the sixteenth century. Her feast day is September 17. Hildegard’s Parish and Pilgrimage Church house the relics of Hildegard, including an altar encasing her remains, in Eibingen near Rüdesheim.

Hildegard of Bingen appears in the calendar of saints in various Anglican churches. In both the Church of England and ECUSA she is commemorated with a Lesser Festival on 17 September.