Hildegard of Bingen


André J. Fabre                                October 2012 

Hildegard of Bingen [1] wears many names: in german, she is "Hildegaard von Bingen", in Latin "Bingensis Hildegardis" but for historians she is, definitely, "The Sibyl of the Rhine."

Shet was a great mystic, also Benedictine abbess, musician and,  well before any diplomas, a physician. 


 Hildegard was born into a noble family, the Bermersheim, who had eight children: the eldest became secular, but a son became a priest in Sarre and another, choirmaster in Mainz.

At the age of 14 years, Hildegard entered a convent of Disibodenberg, in the Palatinate, monastery founded at the end of the Roman Empire by a Holy man coming from Ireland.

Hildegard was brought to mysticism  by, Jutta of Sponheim, Superior Mother of the convent. A year later, at age fifteen, Hildegard pronounced her vows, and after the death of Jutta; became spiritual mother of the community .Soon after, she pronounced perpetual vows and received the monastic veil from the hands of the Bishop of Bamberg .


 At age 38, Hildegard became abbess Hildegard of its couvent. While on mystical dreams,  she received from God about becoming a musician: so it will dial the first hymn that goes through the ages " Scivias ":" Know the ways of God "

In 1150, Hildegard, after internal strife at the convent, went to live with twenty of her nuns to Rupertsberg near Bingen, the city which later on will give his name.

Henceforth she maintained a regular correspondence with the great figures of his time, providing lessons and advice. So, is it received in 1163 by the Emperor Frederick of Hohenstaufen, known as Barbarossa who had settled his army and his Court at   Ingelheim [2] The subject and the details of their encounter remains obscure but we know that the emperor had for  Hildegard the greatest deference.

Now the fame of Hildegard extended to the entire region. The monastery attracted more and more vocations and Hildegard opened in 1165, at Eibingen in Limburg, a new convent that she came visiting every week. She had to take a boat on the Rhine : during one of these trips she is said,  according to legend, to have miraculously restored sight to a blind child by spraying in hi eyes water of the Rhine.


 Hildegard was one of the greatest composers in her times and  many of her compositions could be saved, and among them : "Reading of Virtues", a medieval "mystery" recounting the struggle of a soul torn between Virtues and the Devil.

Several liturgical songs written by Hildegard were kept in a liturgical cycle called "Symphony of the harmony of celestial revelations"


 Hildegard was also a great writer. Many of her manuscripts survived through the ages and three mystical books :"Knowing the way," "The Book of Life" and "The Book of Divine Works". She reported  her mystical visions in a very personal graphic style, where the universe is shown as circles and squares.

Her  texts on the Trinity inspired, many years later, Dante for his "Divine Comedy"


Hildegard has always shown, throughout his life, a great interest for Natural Sciences as the ancients understood it : thus, 'Cause and Cure", dealing with the animal world, vegetable or mineral and the Cosmos.


Diseases as well as patients carewere were the subject of many discussions for Hildegard. In many of its treaties, this medieval woman shows extensive knowledge of plant medications that his time had given the name of "simple".

Thus, among many other examples, the chapter on the use of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare for the botanists) in the treatment of bronchial catarrh and helminths, in accordance to our modern pharmacopoeia.

Hildegard had a great respect for the science of Antiquity, defending the concept of "quality" .. This word is difficult to understand today: we must, above all, see it as an "analogic" approach for the medications when no  "quantitative" crietria could be avaiable.

At the end comes a conclusion: "Only God can bring healing."


Indeed, above all, Hildegard was thinking, by sharing with others her  knowledge, education and moral elevation.

She liked to remind her nuns her beliefs about the status of women: "A woman may be made of the man, but no man can be without a woman." She never failed to add: "God can unite man and woman, so that the high and low to unite everyone to comfort each other."


Hildegard died among her nuns on September 17, 1178 .. Her life, as well as her mystical visions, had always been dedicated to light and, according to the legend, a radiant glow appeared in the sky at the time of his death .. She was canonized in 1243 as Holy Hildegard Bingen.

 A film recently made in Germany [3] summarizes the life of Hildegard of Bingen and the struggles of a woman in a world dominated by men. In fact, Hildegard had been, as expressed by the  great historian Regine Pernoud [4], nothing else than the "XIIth century consciousness"?




Date de dernière mise à jour : 30/07/2013

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