My watch list  

Hildegard of Bingen


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, artist, author, counselor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, activist, 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.[1][2]

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.

At least one modern biographer described Hildegard of Bingen as a polymath.[3]




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 that she held 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.[4]

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 received a call from God. "Write down that which you see and hear," the Divine Voice instructed. 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!'[5]

Hildegard's vivid description of the physical sensations which accompanied her visions have been diagnosed by popular author Oliver Sacks as symptoms of migraine, although no evidence exists that migraines could have produced such visions.

A vita of Hildegard was written by two monks, Godfrid and Theodoric (PL vol. 197).


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 characterised by soaring soprano vocalisations. Hildegard is the first composer whose biography is known.[6]


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.[7]

In addition, there are many instances, both in her letters and visions, which decry the misuse of carnal pleasures. 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. (translation by Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop)



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. (see Scivias, tr. Hart, Bishop, Newman)

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.

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 earthly remains, in Eibingen near Rüdesheim.

As Sister Judith Sutera, O.S.B., of Mount St. Scholastica explains:

For the first centuries, the ‘naming’ and veneration of saints was an informal process, occurring locally and operating locally. . . . When they began to codify, between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, they did not go back and apply any official process to those persons who were already widely recognized and venerated. They simply ‘grandfathered in’ anyone whose cult had been flourishing for 100 years or more. So many quite famous, ancient, and even non-existent saints who have had feast days and devotions since the apostolic era were never canonized per se.[8]


"O frondens virga"

From Ordo Virtutum

Problems listening to the file? See media help.

See also

  • Hildegard of Bingen bibliography and discography


  1. ^; alt Opera, with capitalization, see Florentine Camerata or municipality in the province of Milan, Italy.
  2. ^ and
  3. ^ Carmen Acevedo Butcher, Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (2007), see [1]
  4. ^ Hildegard of Bingen: A Visionary Life, Sabina Flanagan
  5. ^ See Carmen Acevedo Butcher's Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (Paraclete Press, 2007), p. 63.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Flanagan, Sabina. (1998). Hildegard of Bingen, 1098–1179: A Visionary Life. Routledge. p. 97.
  8. ^ See Carmen Acevedo Butcher's Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (Paraclete Press, 2007), p. 160.


Editions and manuscripts of Hildegard's works

  • Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Hs. 2 (Riesen Codex) or Wiesbaden Codex (ca. 1180-85)
  • Dendermonde, Belgium, St.-Pieters-&-Paulusabdij Cod. 9 (Villerenser codex) (ca. 1174/75)
  • Muenchen, University Library, MS2∞156
  • Leipzig, University Library, St. Thomas 371
  • Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS 1139
  • Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium pars prima I-XC edited by L. Van Acker, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis CCCM 91A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991)
  • Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium pars secunda XCI-CCLr edited by L. Van Acker, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis CCCM 91A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1993)
  • Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium pars tertia CCLI-CCCXC edited by L. Van Acker and M. Klaes-Hachmoller, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis XCIB (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001)
  • Hildegardis Bingensis, Scivias. A. Führkötter, A. Carlevaris eds., Corpus Christianorum Scholars Version vols. 43, 43A. (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003)
  • Hildegardis Bingensis, Liber vitae meritorum. A. Carlevaris ed. Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis CCCM 90 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1995)
  • Hildegardis Bingensis, Liber divinorum operum. A. Derolez and P. Dronke eds., Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis CCCM 92 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996)
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Emil Roth, "Glossae Hildigardis", in: Elias Steinmeyer and Eduard Sievers eds., Die Althochdeutschen Glossen, vol. III. Zürich: Wiedmann, 1895, 1965, pp. 390-404.
  • Analecta Sanctae Hildegardis, in Analecta Sacra vol. 8 edited by Jean-Baptiste Pitra (Monte Cassino, 1882).
  • Patrologia Latina vol. 197 (1855).


  • Explanatio Regulae S. Benedicti
  • Explanatio Symboli S. Athanasii
  • Homeliae LVIII in Evangelia.
  • Hymnodia coelestis.
  • Ignota lingua, cum versione Latina
  • Liber divinorum operum simplicis hominis (1163-73/74)
  • Liber vitae meritorum (1158-63)
  • Libri simplicis et compositae medicinae.
  • Physica, sive Subtilitatum diversarum naturarum creaturarum libri novem
  • Scivias seu Visiones (1141-51)
  • Solutiones triginta octo quaestionum
  • Tractatus de sacramento altaris.
  • Vita S. Disibodi
  • Vita S. Ruperti
  • Hildegard of Bingen Documents, History, Sites to see today, etc.
  • New Translation of Hildegard Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader
  • New Advent's Page on Hildegard of Bingen
  • Source
  • Discography
  • Biography and Prayers of Hildegard
  • Another discography
  • Church of St. Hildegard in Eibingen, Germany with information about Hildegard von Bingen and the Eibinger Hildegardisshrine

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Hildegard_of_Bingen". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE