Hildegard von Bingen: A Revolutionary Woman Ahead of Her Time

Hildegard von Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, physician, and polymath of the 12th century. She is considered to be one of the most prominent figures in medieval Christianity and one of the most important polymaths of the Middle Ages. In addition to her religious writings, she wrote works on natural history, philosophy, medicine, and music theory. She is also one of the first female composers whose works have survived to the present day.

Hildegard’s Early Life

Hildegard Von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen was one of the most famous women of the 12th century. She was born around the year 1098, in what is now Germany. Her parents were very wealthy, and she was educated by the best teachers available. She also had a strong religious upbringing, and she became a Benedictine nun when she was just 15 years old.

For many years, she lived a relatively quiet life within her convent walls. However, Hildegard’s life changed dramatically when she began to have visions from God. These visions were so powerful that she felt compelled to write them down and share them with others. As a result, Hildegard became one of the most influential mystics of her time.

Throughout her life, she wrote many works on theology, music, and medicine. She also worked to promote education for women and served as an advisor to several popes and other important figures. Hildegard von Bingen died in 1179 at the age of 81. During her lifetime, she was known as a wise and compassionate woman who had a profound impact on both the religious and secular worlds.

 Stadt Bingen St. Hildegard Abbey Eibingen

Stadt Bingen
St. Hildegard Abbey Eibingen

Hildegard’s Religious Visions

From an early age, Hildegard experienced what she described as “visions.” These visions were ecstatic experiences that she said were not caused by any external physical stimuli. In 1141, Hildegard received a vision from God telling her to “write down what you see and hear.” This was likely the moment when Hildegard decided to start recording her visions in what would become known as her major work Scivias (“Know the Ways”).

Hildegard’s Scivias

Hildegard von Bingen’s Scivias is a remarkable work of medieval mysticism. Written between 1141 and 1151, the Scivias consists of 26 visions, each of which Hildegard claimed to have received from God. The visions range from accounts of Creation and the Fall to warnings about the Antichrist and the end times. In addition, Hildegard provides detailed accounts of her own spiritual journey, including her struggles with doubt and her eventual acceptance of her calling as a prophetess.

While the Scivias is clearly a work of great personal significance to Hildegard, it also provides a window into the imaginative world of 12th-century Christianity. With its blend of apocalyptic prophecy and mystical speculation, the Scivias is a fascinating example of medieval religiosity. Scivias earned Hildegard great acclaim and helped to solidify her reputation as a visionary and theologian.

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Other of Hildegard’s visionary works

Liber Vitae Meritorum

Hildegard von Bingen’s Liber Vitae Meritorum is a work of visionary theology that explores the relationship between God and humanity. Drawing on biblical and theological sources, Hildegard offers a rich and nuanced exploration of the nature of sin, redemption, and salvation. In doing so, she sheds new light on the meaning of human existence and our place in the divine plan. Her work is at once both mystical and practical, offering readers a unique perspective on the spiritual life.

Liber Divinorum Operum

Hildegard von Bingen’s Liber Divinorum Operum (Book of Divine Works) is a fascinating document that offers insight into the medieval mind. Written in the 12th century, it is a collection of Hildegard’s visions, which she interpreted as messages from God. Many of these visions deal with the interactions between the physical and spiritual worlds, and Hildegard’s descriptions are often quite vivid. For instance, in one vision she sees a city made of shimmering crystal, while in another she witnesses the baptism of Christ.

In addition to offering a glimpse into Hildegard’s own mystical experiences, the Liber Divinorum Operum also provides valuable insight into the theology and cosmology of the Middle Ages. As such, it is an important historical document that continues to be studied by scholars today.

Liber Divinorum Operum
Excerpt from the manuscript “Liber divinorum operum”. Manufactured in the 12th century. Preserved in the Ghent University Library.

Hildegard’s Legacy

Today, Hildegard is remembered as one of the most significant women of the Middle Ages. Her visionary thinking helped shape medieval mysticism and laid the foundation for future thinkers such as Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared Hildegard to be a Doctor of the Church- an honor that has only been bestowed upon thirty-three people in history!

Hildegard von Bingen was an extraordinary woman who accomplished more in her 81 years than most people do in a lifetime. She was ahead of her time in so many ways and yet remains largely unknown outside academic circles. I hope that this post has helped shine a light on this incredible figure from medieval history and inspired you to learn more about her life and work.


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