This is about a very influential woman of the 12 century and soon to be saint (or so we’ve been told), Blessed Hildegard Von Bingen.
Child of a noble family in what is now Germany, at the age of 14 she given to the church as a tithe. Odd but useful custom when children were plentiful but funds scarce, toss a daughter or son into the collection plate… In Hildegard’s case she was placed in a small Benedectine cloister attached to a larger monastery. The abbess of the small group of sisters was relatively famous for her knowledge, kindness and ability to see into the heart of those who came to her for guidance.
I don’t want to go too much into her remarkable life. What speaks to me about her is that it wasn’t until she was 42 and abbess in her own right that Hildegard began her remarkable journey of discovery and enlightenment. She was able to convince the abbot to assign a scribe to write down her visions, interpretations of scripture, knowledge of medicine, natural sciences and prolific musical compositions.
She corresponded with Emperors, Popes, theologians and notable figures such as Bernard of Clairvaux. Perhaps most unusual for our picture of the times, Hildegard would go on speaking tours, lecturing from the pulpit to large gatherings as well as to select audiences of the powerful, both ecclesiastical and secular, of the day.
Her convent grew and she moved it twice. In leaving the first monastery she encountered great resistance from the abbot, understandably reluctant to lose the fame, influence and especially the income derived from pilgrims coming to visit his increasingly famous abbess. Hildegard lay down in protest and refused to move until he finally agreed to release her and the sisters to build their new home.
The Abbey of St. Hildegard is currently situated in Eibingen above the Rudescheim River. The original convents established by Hildegard were destroyed by the 1600’s but reconstructed in the 1800’s. It is possible to visit the abbey today, buy some wine (it is a Benedictine abbey, remember) or other products of their hard work. It is even possible to stay a few nights under the rule of hospitality and share in their life.
A smaller convent formed by 10 nuns from the Abbey of St. Hildegard was established in 1988 in Hildesheim. After wee hiatus of 182 years, the rule of St. Benedict is being followed once again in Marienrode Cloister. It also accepts guests seeking a few days of quiet reflection and retreat from the world.
And if you are wondering just what this woman could possibly have to offer you in your modern life, I have just one thing to add to her list of accomplishments. While not in favour of the beverage itself, in her many writings on the medical, scientific and culinary uses of plants she advocated the use of hops in beer to prevent contamination.
This is the first such mention of hops for this purpose.
And now, listen for a minute to just one of the pieces of music written by this remarkable woman living in what we in our ignorance have termed the Dark Ages. It is a recording of the sisters of the Abbey of St. Hildegard, and recorded in the Abbey. And after that a set of pictures from Vision, set to another of Blessed Hildegard’s orisons.