Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Hildegard von Bingen, Religious, 1098-1179
Hildegard was born to a noble family in Böckelheim, Germany, in 1098. As a young child, she was very sickly and, as a consequence, did not receive much education. Little is known about her parents, but, according to the custom at the time, Hildegard, as the tenth child, was dedicated by her parents to the Church and placed in the care of a religious woman, Jutta, at the age of eight. Because of her frailty, Hildegard’s education under Jutta was limited to learning to understand enough Latin so that she could read and sing the psalms with the nuns. Nevertheless, she took the habit of a Benedictine nun at the age of fifteen.
At an early age, Hildegard began to have visions. At first, embarrassed by them, she refused to tell anyone other than Jutta and a monk, Volmar, about them. As she later said:
“Up to my fifteenth year I saw much, and related some of the things seen to others, who would inquire with astonishment, whence such things might come. I also wondered and, during my sickness, I asked one of my nurses whether she also saw similar things. When she answered no, a great fear befell me. Frequently, in my conversation, I would relate future things, which I saw as if present, but, noting the amazement of my listeners, I became more reticent.”
The visions continued through her life and, later, she was told in a vision to write down what she was seeing. Having never learned to write, Hildegard began to dictate what she was seeing to Volmar.
When Jutta died in 1138, Hildegard was named as her successor as Superior of the small convent and continued her writings with Volmar recording them. While she, herself, was convinced that her visions came to her from God, Hildegard sought some sanction from St. Bernard. This saint recommended them to Pope Eugenius III who instructed her to continue her writings. Many of these visions were communicated to the hierarchy of the Church, as well as to kings and emperors, and knowledge of them and of Hildegard’s holiness became widespread.
As her holiness and knowledge of her visions spread, many aspirants came to her convent, to the extent that a larger building was needed. Hildegard moved the community to Rupertsberg, a town near Bingen. From this monastery, she traveled to many towns in Germany, even, at his invitation, visiting the emperor.
While she had no musical training or knowledge of musical notation, Hildegard delighted in singing the liturgy with the other nuns from the time she became knowledgeable in Latin. As well as the many books attributed to her, Hildegard composed hundreds of musical compositions noted for their departure from the plain chant common at the time. Her style was imitated by later composers.
Hildegard died in 1179. It was around this time that the canonization process was changing. Over the next two centuries, four popes began the canonization process for this saint; however none of these courses of action reached a conclusion. But, Hildegard was added to the Roman Martyrology in the 15th century and her feast day is celebrated in several German dioceses on September 17.
Hildegard's message today: Even those of us who may be suffering physical ills and have little formal education have been given talents by God. We should not let these talents lay idle.