Hildegard of Bingen was born into a noble family in Germany in 1098. At the age of 18, Hildegard denied the life of privilege and comfort that was her heritage and instead entered the Benedictine order of nuns. She was a literal visionary; her earliest memories of spiritual visions are of those that occurred when she was three. She was initially reluctant to admit what she was experiencing, fearing doubt from others and controversy. Eventually, she says the Holy Spirit convicted her to write. When she did not listen, she fell physically ill. When she finally was convinced and began recording her visions, she became well. Those who read her words encouraged to continue writing. Ten years later, Hildegard had written a book of her visions, Scivias ["Know the Ways"], which was shown to the contemporary Pope. Impressed by her writing, the Pope told Hildegard to keep up the good work. She wrote two more visionary books and over 300 letters to those who sought her mystic advice.
Hildegard's creativity, vision, and experience of the splendor of God poured over into every activity she did. She began to compose beautiful liturgical works of music. Hildegard is arguably one of the earliest female Western composers and is certainly one of the most important composers of the Medieval Church. Her music told stories and sang praise. It was spiritual and real and human and otherly. Listen to a bit of it here!
"Like all mystics, she saw the harmony of God's creation and the place of women and men in that. This unity was not apparent to many of her contemporaries," notes American Catholic writer Leonard Foley. Hildegard also believed fervently that the sacraments were for everyone because God was for everyone. She was harshly criticized by her church contemporaries for having given an excommunicated man on his deathbed the sacraments of the church and insisting that if he was willing he could be reconciled to the Lord.
We chose Hildegard as one of our #TirzahWomen because of her tenacity, her creativity, and her beliefs that men and women are equal, that everyone has some gift to offer to God through its use to his glory, and that it is never too late to embrace the love of God. What creative gifts do you have to offer?