Women's History Month Week 4

Hildegard, Abbess of Bingen and Mystic


Hildegard of Bingen, born in 1098 in the lush Rhineland Valley, was a mystic, poet, composer, dramatist, doctor, scientist. Her parents tenth child, she was tithed to the Church and raised by the anchoress Jutta in a cottage near the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg.

Drawn by the life of silence and prayer, other women joined them, finding the freedom, rare outside women's religious communities, to develop their intellectual gifts. They organized as a convent under the authority of the abbot of Disibodenberg, with Jutta as abbess. When Jutta died, Hildegard, then 38, became abbess. Later she founded independent convents at Bingen (1150) and Eibingen (1165), with the Archbishop of Mainz as her only superior.

From childhood, Hildegard experienced dazzling spiritual visions. At 43, a voice commanded her to tell what she saw. So began an outpouring of extraordinarily original writings illustrated by unusual and wondrous illuminations. These works abound with feminine imagery for God and Gods creative activity.

In 1147, Bernard of Clairvaux recommended her first book of visions, Scivias, to Pope Eugenius III, leading to papal authentication at the Synod of Trier. Hildegard became famous, eagerly sought for counsel, a correspondent of kings and queens, abbots and abbesses, archbishops and popes.

She carried out four preaching missions in northern Europe, unprecedented activity for a woman. She practiced medicine, focusing on women's needs; published treatises on natural science and philosophy; wrote a liturgical drama, The Play of the Virtues, in which personified virtues sing their parts and the devil, condemned to live without music, can only speak. For Hildegard, music was essential to worship. Her liturgical compositions, unusual in structure and tonality, were described by contemporaries as chant of surpassing sweet melody and strange and unheard-of music.

Hildegard lived in a world accustomed to male governance. Yet, within her convents, and to a surprising extent outside them, she exercised a commanding spiritual authority based on confidence in her visions and considerable political astuteness. When she died in 1179 at 81, she left a rich legacy which speaks eloquently across the ages.

God of all times and seasons: Give us grace that we, after the example of your servant Hildegard, may both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of your creation, and show forth your glory not only with our lips but in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Biographical information and Collect used by permission from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (c)2010 The Church Pension Fund.

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