Updated: Jun 17, 2021
This week, we celebrate mothers of all kinds on Mother's Day. This year Mother's Day happened to fall on May 10, which is also the date that Hildegard von Bingen or St. Hildegard, who gave birth to extensive both artistic and scientific output, was canonized in 2012.
Hildegard was a German 12th-century Benedictine abbess, composer, poet, visual artist, mystic, and teacher, scientist. Born in 1098 at Böckelheim, West Franconia [Germany] to wealthy, land-owning parents. She was educated at the Benedictine cloister of Disibodenberg by Jutta of Sponheim. She began to wear a habit and pursue religious lift around the age of 15. Around 1136, Hildegard succeeded Jutta as magistra of the Benedictinecloister of Disibodenberg. She spent most of her 80-plus years, living and working in this hilltop monastery (pictured below).
Hildegard is one of the first identifiable composers in Western music. She collected 77 of her lyric poems along with their musical setting, which she also composed, in Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum (Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations). At the time, most compositions were written down and shared anonymously. However, she was relatively unknown and her music uncelebrated until the 20th century when Philip Pickett and his New London Consort performed of four of Hildegard’s songs in 1979 in honor of the 800th anniversary of her death.
Historic accounts, written during her lifetime and just after her death, depict Hildegard as an extraordinarily accomplished woman. She was considered a visionary a prophet (she was known as “The Sibyl Of The Rhine”. According to her own writing, she had had religious visions throughout her life, beginning at the age of five. Around the age of 43, she shared her visions with her confessor and a monk was appointed to help her record her visions in writing.
"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..."
The resulting work, Scivas (1141–52). The title comes from the Latin phrase, Sci vias Domini, "Know the Ways of the Lord". The final vision includes 14 songs, plus a portion of the music drama which was later published as Ordo Virtutum.
Hildegard was also wrote books on biology, botany, medicine, theology, as well as the arts. These include Physica (Physics) and Causae et Curae (Causes and Cures) which are together known as Liber subtilatum (1150). These works are scientific and don't contain any references to divine inspiration or revelation. She even created her own language for her own amusement.
Hildegard's contribution to the world of music can not be overemphasized. In her writing, she describes music as the means of "recapturing the original joy and beauty of paradise." According to her, music was invented and musical instruments were built so that people could worship God in a magnificent fashion. Listeners and performers often describe Hildegard's music as angelic or otherworldly. Listen and watch to Hymns and Songs performed by Ensemble Vocatrix at Colburn School in the video below.
Hildegard died on Sept. 17, 1179 died at the abbey in Bingen at the age of 89.
Apostolic Letter, Proclaiming Saint Hildegard of Bingen, professed nun of the Order of Saint Benedict, a Doctor of the Universal Church, BENEDICTUS PP. XVI FOR PERPETUAL REMEMBRANCE, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_letters/documents/hf_ben-xvi_apl_20121007_ildegarda-bingen.html, (Accessed 11 May 2020).
Classical FM. Hildegard of Bingen: life and music of the great female composer, https://www.classicfm.com/composers/bingen/guides/discovering-great-composers-hildegard-von-bingen, (Accessed 11 May 2020).
Heilige Hildegard. Die “Scivias”-Miniaturen, Der Rupertsberger Scivias-Kodex, (In German), https://www.abtei-st-hildegard.de/die-scivias-miniaturen, (Accessed 11 May 2020).
Fordham University, The Life and Works of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/med/hildegarde.asp (Accessed 11 May 2020).
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is passionate about tea and creating our own daily rituals. Visitwww.PerennialMusicAndArts.com for more about music lessons and www.JanaeJean.com for more about a variety of wellness related topics including tea, sound healing, and more. Contact her via email@example.com for questions about tea, ceremony, music composition, sound healing, writing, photography, or other relevant topics.