Friday, August 2, 2013

Hildegard's Spiritual Reader

Hildegard was born in 1098, the tenth child in a noble family in Bermersheim, near Mainz, Germany. Her family gave her as a tithe to the church, not uncommon then. In 1112, at age 14 she entered a hermitage attached to a monastery and Benedictine convent at St. Disibod Abbey in Disibodenberg. In her late 30s, Hildegard was elected by the nuns as their abbess. Some years later, in 1150, Hildegard and 20 nuns left St. Disibod and started another convent at Rupertsberg, 19 miles northeast, near Bingen on the Rhine River. In 1165, Hildegard again founded a new convent, at Eibingen, just across the Rhine River, so she could visit there often. 

From an early age, Hildegard had visions and prophecies that she believed God commanded her to write down and share. She chose to write in Latin, and Hildegard’s own Latin style created “memorable challenges,” says author and translator Carmen Acevedo Butcher. A prolific author, Hildegard produced three volumes of theology, her own musical compositions, poetry, and a morality play called The Play of the Virtues.  In  her 60s, she wrote an encyclopedia on plants, elements, trees, stones, fish, birds, animals, reptiles, and metals. And between 1158–1170, she went on four preaching tours (we might say missions) to nearby towns, preaching in both monasteries and public places. All of this from a woman who often had health problems, such as exhaustions, fevers, breathing difficulties and perhaps migraine headaches.

Because she was “well-connected,” and well-known through her writings, Hildegard had many opportunities for correspondence with both secular and religious leaders and she never hesitated to tell these leaders what she believed God wanted them to do. In Hildegard of Bingen, author Butcher provides the life story of Hildegard along with excerpts from her songs, poetry, books and correspondence, thus the subtitle “A Spiritual Reader.” This book is available from There is a good map at the beginning and a helpful time-line near the end. A DVD is available at 

Many years after Hildegard’s death at 81 in 1179, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, October 7, 2012, proclaimed St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church—the fourth woman to be so honored. It’s easy to see that St. Hildegard was a multi-tasking person, and a Benedictine follower of the Rule, who spent her life serving the Triune God where he had placed her.

—Lois Sibley