Hildegard's Life and her Books
Born in 1098, Hildegard of Bingen exerted considerable influence over the events and people of her time.
During the more than 80 years of her life, Hildegard worked with people of all walks of life. From the members of her cloister to the head of state and church, she dealt with them all.
Born in 1098 as the tenth child of Hildebert and Mechtild of Bermersheim, at the tender age of 8, Hildegard joined Jutta of Sponheim as a student, along with another girl, a distant relative of Jutta's, when she entered her hermitage attached to the nearby Benedictine monastery at Disibodenberg.
If eight years seems young, it will be good to realize that it was customary at that time for boys, destined to become knights, to be sent to the court of a suitable mentor knight at the age of seven.
Over time others joined Jutta, whom they selected as their leader and the community of small joined hermitages as well as regular nuns grew.
Sometime between 1112 and 1115, Hildegard decided to embrace the cloistered life herself, but did not chose the life of a hermit.
When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard, despite her frequent illnesses and over her protests, was elected to lead the community.
According to her biography, Hildegard's experienced vision by her third birthday. They tell of her accurately predicting the color and markings of an unborn calf.
During her time with Jutta, she spoke with her candidly about her experiences, although she kept this from others once she realized that not everyone else shared the same gift.
When Hildegard was about 42, she was told to write down what she saw and heard. Only after much hesitation and with encouragement from her confessor Volmar did she finally start to dictate the contents of her first work "Scivias" or "Know the Ways". She started the book in about 1141 and finally completed it in 1151. The slow progress was largely due to her selfdoubts and lack of confidence.
Meanwhile the men's monastery to which Hildegard's commnunity was attached, grew and grew. Eventually Hildegard saw the need for a separate community and in time she was instructed by her visions to proceed with the new foundation.
In fact the exact place was shown to her, the hill of Rupertsberg - near Bingen - a wilderness, covered mostly with trees and thickets. In 1150, despite initial opposition, from the abbot of Disibodenberg, Hildegard with 20 of her sisters moved to the new site, once the residential wing of the convent was far enough completed to house the nuns.
Gradually Hildegard won more and more support for her new monastery and in time it flourished. With time, the somewhat rocky relationship with the monastery at Disibodenberg was sorted out. During the protracted negotiations, Hildegard showed herself both resolute in protecting her and her community's rights and generous in settling the contentious issues to everyone's satisfaction.
Over the years , starting with Scivias and continuing on to the end of her life, she committed her visions to paper. These include her books on medicine:
- Liber Simplicis Medicinae - ("Physica" - "On Nature") and
- "Liber Compositae Medicinae" - ("Causae et Curae" - "Causes and Cures")
- both written between about 1151 and 1158.
- "Liber vitae meritorum" ("Book of Life's Merits")
- written from about 1158 to 1163,
- "De Operatione Dei" or "Liber Divinorum Operum" ("Book of Divine Works")
- written between 1163 and 1173.
Among her many other writing we find a musical drama "Ordo Virtutum" - "The Order of Virtues" as well a book "Lingua Ignota" written in "Litterae Ignotae" ("The Unknown Language" and "The Unknown Letters"), quite aside from the extensive musical scores Hildegard composed.
In addition, she was in correspondence with many of her contemporaries, throughout Europe, be they popes and emperors or various members of the hierarchy.
What demonstrates her unique gift and position in the both the political and religious arena - which of course were closely linked during the Middle Ages - more than anything else, are the four preaching tours she undertook. Between the years 1158 and 1170, she traveled most of the length of Germany, from Cologne in the North to Zwiefalten in the South - about 450 km along modern roads - as well an almost identical distance from Metz in the West to Bamberg in the East. Hildegard started her first such trip in 1158, when she would have been sixty years old and finished her fourth one in 1170, at the good age of 72. All the while, busy writing two of her books - "Liber Meritorum" and Liber Divinorum Operum" along with much of her other correspondence.
In her achievements and influence through her prolific writing as well as her preaching tours, she stands alone throughout the Middle Ages and centuries to come.
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