Wednesday, January 8, 8098

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

O Successores (You Successors)

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

She is the first composer with an extant biography. One of her works, the Ordo Virtutum, has been called the first form, and possibly the origin, of opera.

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.

Hildegard was born into a family of free nobles in the service of the counts of Sponheim, close relatives of the Hohenstaufen emperors. She was the tenth child, sickly from birth. From the time she was very young, Hildegard wrote, she experienced visions. In fact, the only surviving tale of Hildegard's childhood involves a conversation she had with her nurse. Hildegard described an unborn calf as "white... marked with different colored spots on its forehead, feet and back." The nurse, amazed with the detail of the young child's account, told Hildegard's mother, who later rewarded her daughter with the calf, whose appearance Hildegard had accurately predicted.

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 at the age of eight. Hildegard was placed in the care of Jutta, the sister of Count Meinhard of Sponheim, just outside the Disibodenberg monastery in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of what is now Germany. Jutta was enormously popular and acquired many followers, such that a small nunnery sprang up around her.

Upon Jutta's death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected as "magistra," or leader of her sister community. The election would lead to the significant move, executed in the midst of great opposition, of twenty members of her community to her newly-formed monastery, Saint Rupertsberg at Bingen on the Rhine in 1150, where Volmar served as provost.

Hildegard "became... reticent" regarding her visions, confiding only to Jutta, who in turn told Volmar, Hildegard's tutor and, later, secretary and scribe. Throughout her life, she continued to have many visions, and in 1141, Hildegard had what she believed to be an instruction from God, to "write down that which you see and hear." Hildegard, hesitant to record her visions, soon became physically ill. In her first theological text, 'Scivias, or "Know the Ways," Hildegard describes her struggle within:

"I didn’t immediately follow this command. Self-doubt made me hesitate. I analyzed others’ opinions of my decision and sifted through my own bad opinions of myself. Finally, one day I discovered I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. Through this illness, God taught me to listen better. Then, when my good friends Richardis and Volmar urged me to write, I did. I started writing this book and received the strength to finish it, somehow, in ten years. These visions weren’t fabricated by my own imagination, nor are they anyone else’s. I saw these when I was in the heavenly places. They are God’s mysteries. These are God’s secrets. I wrote them down because a heavenly voice kept saying to me, 'See and speak! Hear and write!'"

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. He details his studies in his book Migraine.

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. Approximately eighty compositions have survived, which is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers.

Among her better known works, Ordo Virtutum, or Play of the Virtues, is a morality play. It is an example of a rare and early "oratorio" for women's voices, with one male part, that of the Devil, who, because of his corrupted nature, cannot sing. The oratorio was created, like much of Hildegard's music, for religious ceremonial performance by the nuns of her abbeys.

Hildegard's music is described as monophonic; that is, consisting of exactly one melodic line, designed for limited instrumental accompaniment and characterized by soaring soprano vocalisations.

In addition to music, Hildegard also wrote medical, botanical, and geological treatises. She 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.

Accounts of Hildegard's visions were compiled into three books. The first, 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 ("Book of Divine Works") followed. In these volumes, works in progress until her death in 1179, she first describes each vision, then interprets them. 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 and was later copied in Paris in 1513.

Hildegard's visionary writings maintain that virginity is the highest level of the spiritual life, however, she also wrote about the secular life, including motherhood. She is the first woman to record a treatise of feminine sexuality, providing scientific accounts of the 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.

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. As depicted on the map displayed to the right, she traveled widely during her four preaching tours, the only woman to have done so during the Middle Ages.

Hildegard was one of the first souls for whom the canonization process was officially applied, but the process took so long that four attempts at canonization (the last was in 1244, under Pope Innocent IV) were not completed, and she remained at the level of her beatification. She has been referred to as a saint by some, nonetheless, particularly in contemporary Germany.

[8100 Hindustani Music / 8098 Hildegard / 8096 First Crusade]