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|St. Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B.|
Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary
|Doctor of the Church, Sibyl of the Rhine|
Bermersheim vor der Höhe, County Palatine of the Rhine, Holy Roman Empire
|Died||17 September 1179 (aged 81)
Bingen am Rhein, County Palatine of the Rhine, Holy Roman Empire
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church
(Order of St. Benedict)
|Beatified||26 August 1326 (confirmation of cultus) by Pope John XXII|
|Canonized||10 May 2012 (equivalent canonization), Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI|
|Major shrine||Eibingen Abbey
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Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B. (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis; 1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath. She is considered to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany.
Hildegard was elected magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136; she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play. She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias. She is also noted for the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota.
Although the history of her formal consideration is complicated, she has been recognized as a saint by branches of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. On 7 October 2012, Pope Benedict XVInamed her a Doctor of the Church.
Hildegard was born around the year 1098, although the exact date is uncertain. Her parents were Mechtild of Merxheim-Nahet and Hildebert of Bermersheim, a family of the free lower nobility in the service of the Count Meginhard of Sponheim. Sickly from birth, Hildegard is traditionally considered their youngest and tenth child, although there are records of seven older siblings. In her Vita, Hildegard states that from a very young age she had experienced visions.
Perhaps because of Hildegard’s visions, or as a method of political positioning (or both), Hildegard’s parents offered her as an oblate to the Benedictine monastery at the Disibodenberg, which had been recently reformed in the Palatinate Forest. The date of Hildegard’s enclosure at the monastery is the subject of debate. Her Vita says she was professed with an older woman, Jutta, the daughter of Count Stephan II of Sponheim, at the age of eight. However, Jutta’s date of enclosure is known to have been in 1112, when Hildegard would have been fourteen. Their vows were received by Bishop Otto Bamberg on All Saints’ Day, 1112. Some scholars speculate that Hildegard was placed in the care of Jutta at the age of eight, and the two women were then enclosed together six years later.
In any case, Hildegard and Jutta were enclosed together at the Disibodenberg, and formed the core of a growing community of women attached to the male monastery. Jutta was also a visionary and thus attracted many followers who came to visit her at the cloister. Hildegard tells us that Jutta taught her to read and write, but that she was unlearned and therefore incapable of teaching Hildegard sound biblical interpretation. The written record of the Life of Jutta indicates that Hildegard probably assisted her in reciting the psalms, working in the garden and other handiwork, and tending to the sick. This might have been a time when Hildegard learned how to play the ten-stringed psaltery. Volmar, a frequent visitor, may have taught Hildegard simple psalm notation. The time she studied music could have been the beginning of the compositions she would later create.
Upon Jutta’s death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected as magistra of the community by her fellow nuns. Abbot Kuno of Disibodenberg asked Hildegard to be Prioress, which would be under his authority. Hildegard, however, wanted more independence for herself and her nuns, and asked Abbot Kuno to allow them to move to Rupertsberg. This was to be a move towards poverty, from a stone complex that was well established to a temporary dwelling place. 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 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 monastery for her nuns at Eibingen.
Hildegard said that she first saw “The Shade of the Living Light” at the age of three, and by the age of five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions. She used the term ‘visio’ to this feature of her experience, and recognized that it was a gift that she could not explain to others. Hildegard explained that she saw all things in the light of God through the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. 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. The illustrations recorded in the book of Scivias were visions that Hildegard experienced, causing her great suffering and tribulations. In her first theological text, Scivias (“Know the Ways”), Hildegard describes her struggle within:
But I, though I saw and heard these 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!’
It was between November 1147 and February 1148 at the synod in Trier that Pope Eugenius heard about Hildegard’s writings. It was from this that she received Papal approval to document her visions as revelations from the Holy Spirit giving her instant credence.
Before Hildegard’s death, a problem arose with the clergy of Mainz. A man buried in Rupertsburg had died after excommunication from the Church. Therefore, the clergy wanted to remove his body from the sacred ground. Hildegard did not accept this idea, replying that it was a sin and that the man had been reconciled to the church at the time of his death.
On 17 September 1179, when Hildegard died, her sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she was dying.