The Early Life of Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard was born in the year 1098 to a noble family in Rheinhesse, Germany. She was the 10th child and, as
was the custom for families who might have trouble feeding all their children, was “tithed” to the church from birth.
At age 8, young Hildegard left her family to be educated by the anchoress, Jutta von Sponhelm, at the Benedictine nunnery of Disibodenberg. Rather than being completely isolated away from all, Jutta’s cell had a door through which Hildegard and other girls from noble families could enter for studies.
In her early teens, at age 15, Hildegard made her vows as a nun.
When Hildegard was 38 years of age Jutta died and Hildegard was elected the new head of the small convent which had formed in that tiny cell.
The Music of Hildegard von Bingen
Music played a prominent role with Hildegard and during her lifetime she wrote numerous hymns and sequences to honour the saints and the Virgin Mary. Some credit her with creating the first operas. According to Hildegard, music was a way of capturing the joy and beauty of paradise which had been lost with the fall of Adam from the Garden of Eden.
Her music was common for the liturgical style of the time, a plainchant tradition with a single vocal melodic line. Over the past decade the music of Hildegard von Bingen has been enjoying a revival and you can now find many recordings of her work.
When reviewing Hildegard’s ‘COLUMBA ASPEXIT’, a sequence in honour of St Maximus, Sister Victorine Fenton, OSB stated:
All of Hildegard’s music resembles chant in many ways, yet it is highly individual. Her ranges are very wide, sometimes exceeding two octaves; and she loves large intervals. A wide skip is often followed by another in the same direction; something that is almost never found in chant. Hildegard’s music is made up of a number of melodic patterns, like chant, but instead of assembling and reassembling these in a kind of patchwork quilt manner, centonization, as did the composers of chant, Hildegard uses the melodic patterns as frameworks on which she spins a melody.
The Artistry of Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen is known as much for her artistic works as she is for her music. It is now believed that many of Hildegard’s visions, which she painted, came as a result of migraines. Hildegard began seeing visions as a young child but confided them only to her teacher, Jutta, and a monk by the name of Volmar who became her lifelong secretary.
In 1141 Hildegard had a vision which changed her life forever. This vision gave her an instant understanding of religious texts and commanded her to write down everything she saw in her visions.
“And it came to pass … when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming… and suddenly I understood of the meaning of expositions of the books…
But although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and low opinion of myself and because of diverse sayings of men, I refused for a long time a call to write, not out of stubbornness but out of humility, until weighed down by a scourge of God, I fell onto a bed of sickness.”
The Works of Hildegard of Bingen
The 12th Century marked a time of great schisms within the Catholic Church. Anyone preaching an outlandish
doctrine could find himself with a large following. Hildegard was quite sceptical of these schismatics and actively spoke out against them. She did, however, wish for her visions to be sanctioned by the church and she wrote to St Bernard, seeking his blessing. St Bernard in turn contacted Pope Eugenius who encouraged Hildegard to complete her work.
With the Pope’s blessing, Hildegard was able to complete some of her first visionary work, Scivias, “Know the Ways of the Lord” and her fame spread throughout Germany and into the rest of Europe.
Evidence indicates that her music and moral play Ordo Virtutum (Play of Virtues) was performed in her own convent. As well as the Scivias, which she also illustrated, she wrote two other major works of visionary writing: Liber vitae meritorum (1150-63) (Book of Life’s Merits) and Liber divinorum operum(1163) (Book of Divine Works).
Hildegard also wrote Physica and Causae et Curae (1150), both works on natural history and curative powers of various natural objects, which are together known as Liber Subtilatum (The book of Subtleties of the Diverse Nature of Things). Hildegard’s writings on medicine were uncharacteristic of most of her writings, including her correspondences, because they were not presented in a visionary form and didn’t contain any references to divine source or revelation. However, they did reflect her religious philosophy – that the man was the peak of God’s creation and everything was put in the world for man to use.
Hildegrad von Bingen, daughter of Hildebert and Mechthild von Bermersheim, born at Rheinhesse in Germany in 1108 was consulted by and advised Bishops, Kings, and Popes.
She died at age 82 in 1179. After her death she was commemorated by the Catholic Church but there is no evidence she was ever canonised. Some still refer to her though as St Hildegard and she has been assigned the Feast Day of 17 September.
Hildegard Von Bingen In Portrait: Ordo Virtutum / Patricia Routledge
- The Ordo Virtutum is one of the greatest works by mystic Hildegard von Bingen, and one of the oldest surviving musical dramas. Some think she should be credited with writing the first dramatic opera.
- This CD set also includes a biographical documentary featuring British actress Patricia Routledge and interviews with Professor Matthew Fox and Mary Grabowsky, two experts on Hildegard’s spiritual significance to the 21st century.
Learn More of Hildegard of Bingen
- Hildegard of Bingen
- The Life and Works of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
- Columba Aspexit. Hildegard’s Sequence in Honour of St Maximinus
- Hildegard of Bingen’s sequence, ‘Columba aspexit’, is an interesting work both as music and as poetry.
- Hildegard of Bingen
- A short biography of Hildegard of Bingen. Fast facts and interesting information about Hildegard of Bingen.
- Medieval Church.org.uk: Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
- Hildegard of Bingen
- Images of Hildegard von Bingen are in the Public Domain, however some which I have used were found through the library of the Wellcome Collection at Wellcome-Images.
- St. Hildegard of Bingen (saintpatrickk.com)
- Musical Embodiment and Hildegard von Bingen (jennapalin.wordpress.com)
- A Beginner’s Guide to the Music of St. Hildegard of Bingen (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- Hildegard, a Glorious Vision(ary) (jacquelinebriggsblog.wordpress.com)