Born of a noble family in Bermersheim in 1098, Hildegard was subject to mystical religious experiences from early childhood. The youngest of ten children, at the age of eight she was entrusted to the care of Jutta, a recluse attached to the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg in the Rhineland. Hildegard became a nun at fifteen and led an uneventful, studious life for seventeen years until her visions and revelations began. On Jutta’s death in 1136 she succeeded her as abbess of the community that had gathered around Jutta.
Under the direction of her prior and confessor, Volmar, in 1141 she began to record some of her visions. Having won the approval of the archbishop of Mainz (the primate of Germany), between 1141 and 1151 she dictated her Scivias (probably an abbreviation of scito vias Domini, “know the ways of the Lord”). This work is divided into three books containing twenty-six visions, combining insights into the nature of humanity and the world with her vision of salvation history leading to the Last Judgment. At the urging of Bernard of Clairvaux, Pope Eugenius the Third in 1147/48 gave his guarded approval of sections of this work and granted Hildegard permission to continue writing.
Meanwhile, her community at Disibodenberg had grown too large for its convent, and sometime between1147 and 1152 she led them to Rupertsberg, near Bingen, where a large convent was built. From this house she undertook many journeys in the Rhineland, reformed several other convents, and made a new foundation at Eibingen.
Hildegard exerted a wide influence, and like some other visionaries she felt called upon to reprove rulers. Her correspondents included King Henry the Second of England, the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and Pope Eugenius the Third as well as various other prelates. She showed herself remarkably gifted and insightful in a number of fields. She wrote poems, musical compositions (seventy-seven carmina), a morality play with dramatic songs (the Ordo virtutum), and works of medicine and natural history. Her Liber divinorum operum in three books contains visions of the cosmos, the earth, and created things, comprising studies on the elements, plants, minerals, fishes, birds, mammals, and reptiles. The Physica and the Causae et curae cover the circulation of the blood, headaches, giddiness, frenzy, insanity, and obsessions. Her other works include commentaries on the Gospels, on the Athanasian Creed, and on the Rule of Saint Benedict. In addition to being abbess, visionary, physician, and musician, she was also an artist, providing illustrations for the Scivias.
Toward the end of her life she and her convent were placed under interdict by the chapter of Mainz for burying an excommunicate in their graveyard, but Hildegard successfully appealed to the archbishop to have the interdict lifted. She died at the age of eighty-one. Attempts to secure her canonization in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were unsuccessful, but her name was inserted into the Roman Martyrology in the fifteenth century.
prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
God of all times and seasons: Give us grace that we, after the example of your servant Hildegard, may both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of your creation, and show forth your glory not only with our lips but in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of Hildegard, Abbess of Bingen and Mystic, are published on the Lectionary Page website.