Saint Hildegard of Bingen: Mystic and Visionary
Saint Hildegard, Benedictine abbess, mystic and visionary, lived from 1098 to 1179. She was born at Bermersheim, south of Mainz in present day Germany. She was the tenth child born to a noble family. As was customary with the tenth child, which the family could not count on feeding, she was offered to God by her parents as a child oblate. A very gifted young woman, Hildegard began to have visions of luminous objects at the age of three, which she kept to herself.
At the age of eight, Hildegard was placed under the care of the anchoress, Jutta, a relative, who lived in a nearby hermitage. In time this developed into a full Benedictine community which was subject to the male abbey of Saint Disibod.
Hildegard received the habit at the age of fifteen and for the next seventeen years lived a strictly enclosed contemplative life. Her visions were later written down in a book called Scivias (an abbreviation of Scito vias Domini, ‘Know the ways of the Lord’).
In 1136 she was elected abbess of the convent and, five years later, moved the community to Rupertsberg in the Rhine valley near Bingen. This move obtained for her and her sisters independence from the jurisdiction of the abbot of St Disibod. She retained the devoted services of the monk Volmar who acted as her personal secretary and literary editor.
In 1141, Hildegard experienced an overwhelming divine illumination — a vision of God gave her instant understanding of the meaning of the religious texts. Volmar commanded her to write down everything she would observe in her visions.
And it came to pass…when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming…and suddenly I understood of the meaning of expositions of the books…
Yet Hildegard was also overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and hesitated to act.
But although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and low opinion of myself and because of diverse sayings of men, I refused for a long time a call to write, not out of stubbornness but out of humility, until weighed down by a scourge of god, I fell onto a bed of sickness.
She wanted her visions to be approved by the Catholic Church, though she herself never doubted the divine origins to her luminous visions. She wrote to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who brought the writings to the attention of Pope Eugenius III and he, with the archbishop of Mainz, approved them and encouraged Hildegard to finish her writings. Much like St. Catherine of Siena, Hildegard became a spiritual advisor and confidante to popes, cardinals, bishops, abbots, kings and other government officials, monks, nuns, and lay people.
Hilegard is one of the greatest figures of the twelfth century. “A renaissance woman”, she was a Benedictine prioress, a nurse and physician, a composer and lyricist, an author and playwright, a scientist, a linguist, a philosopher, a psychologist, and a mystic. Hildegard died on September 17, 1179. Miracles were reported at her death, and the people honored her a saint. She was never formally canonized, but her name was inserted in the Roman Martyrology in the fifteenth century. Her feast day is September 17.
Final prayers “Kyrie & Pater Noster” from the versper “o vis aeternitatis” at Abbey St. Hildegard.
Schola of the Benedictines Abbey St. Hildegard, Eibingen. Directed by Johannes Berchmanns Göschl and Sr. Christiane Rath OSB. Recorded 1997