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Born: 1098
Died: Sept. 17th, 1179
FEast: Sept. 17th
Patron of:  
writers, doctors, healers, scientists, composers, 
playwrights, artists, women leaders and speakers, 
feminists, operas, the environment and conservation

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St. Hildegard
of Bingen

Bio

 

Hildegard was born in a region that is now part of Germany as one of as many of ten siblings. Because her family could not afford to take care of that many children and because Hildegard was often very sick, they promised her to God and put her in the care of  a Benedictine sister named Jutta when she was 8. Jutta was an anchorite, meaning that she lived in a small cell alone for most of the day and food would be passed to her through a small window by which she could also see out into the church to watch the services. A small door let Hildegard and possibly a few other girls in and out on occasion as she taught them how to read and write. Hildegard's education was not very thorough, though, since for the rest of her life, despite her inspired visions and creativity, she required help in recording her thoughts.

When Hildegard was 18, she entered the religious community herself, and when Jutta passed away 20 years later, she was elected the leader of the women in the convent.

Hildegard had been elected unanimously, and it was soon very clear that her nature, which was unlike any other women religious at the time, was attracting many followers. Hildegard decided that she needed to move to a new spot for the growing community, and founded a monastery of her own. The Abbot did not want her to do this until Hildegard suddenly became stricken with a paralysis, and she believed it was God's displeasure at her not being able to fulfill this mission. The Abbot did not believe that until he found that he, too, could not even move her, and granted her wish - she then recovered.

Hildegard had been seeing visions since she was a child but did not realize the necessity of writing down what she had experienced until she was 42 years old when she began work on "Scivias". Still not wanting to record these things because of it seeming unusual and because of her feelings of unworthiness, she became physically sick as she recorded her words and illustrations. It is believed now that most likely, she was suffering from debilitating migraines which cause symptoms ranging from blackouts to illnesses. She only ever claimed, however, that the visions of God that she experienced were things that could be felt with any human's five senses  - so, likely, the severity of her suffering and disease simply caused her to view things more clearly when not present.

The bishop approved her work as being directly from God, however, and it was also sent to the Pope who agreed. Soon, people began to come from all over to visit Hildegard. Despite her lack of education, she had also become extremely well-versed in medicinal plants and healing as well as natural science, and she composed music, operas, and what is considered to be the first morality play.

All of that was so uncommon for women to be able to participate in at this time, especially women in religious life. Aside from those things, Hildegard also broke barriers by traveling extensively throughout Germany, preaching in public places, writing letters to royal and authority figures, and inventing her own alphabet.

Hildegard used these preaching tours and letters to speak her mind. The 12th century was a tumultuous one in the Church, and she did not shy away from calling out religious leaders who were corrupt, authorities who abused their power, and people in religious life who sat back and enjoyed their easy positions rather than getting out in their communities and working with the people they were supposed to be serving. She also had visions of air pollution and deforestation centuries before either became an issue, and had a strong conviction that the job of humans was to take care of the world we live in. She was terrified they had already begun to destroy it for their own "progress".

In addition, she spoke out against divisions among social classes, she rallied for gender equality, and advocated for holistic healing which includes caring for both physical and mental health together. She was also possibly the very first writer to talk about sexuality for women in a positive light.

Her theology was well-respected despite being so revolutionary for her time, and became even more popular after her death. She spoke often about a type of "cosmic Christ" that was to be found in the elements of nature. She wrote that people were at their best and holiest when immersed in nature, health, joy, and activeness. She also wrote much about the "Divine Feminine" and women's extremely important place in nature and Christianity.

Unfortunately, Hildegard's last year of life may have been the toughest for her. She and her monastery were accused of scandal when Hildegard refused to let the body of a young boy be dug up from the convent's cemetery. The Bishop did not want his body there because he had been excommunicated before his death, but Hildegard argued that because he had received the sacrament of last rights before passing, he had been forgiven.

The interdict was lifted after many months, and when Hildegard passed, the sisters claimed to have seen streaks of light in the sky.

She was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church (one of only four women) after a long process, but she has been venerated for centuries.

Prayer

 

Despite controversy, you lived for what was right and using your many gifts to benefit humanity. You saw how amazing and important people are to God, and you let them know, creating both to inspire and nurture them along the way. Inspire us to never cease to use our gifts for love.

Amen.

Art Reflection

 

How could I possibly fit all of Hildegard's wide range of talents and vast influence into one portrait? Her Earbud is symbolic of her musical talent, the plants in her pocket are symbolic of her scientific and medical talent, and then pen is a symbol for her art and writing. She has a female symbol tattoo, and her eyeshadow is reminiscent of the flames she is often portrayed with over her eyes as symbols of her visions. This extraordinary woman is clearly concentrating - on what, at the moment, it is impossible to tell, but she is about to change history with it. She is a role model to all of us who worry about inadequacy (she definitely had imposter syndrome) but we can see all she was able to accomplish once she overcame it.

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