Hildegard von Bingen
On September 16, 1098, Hildegard of Bingen was born, she was a remarkable woman, a "first" in many
fields. At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard, known as "Sybil of the Rhine", produced major
works of theology and visionary writings. When few women were accorded respect, she was consulted by
and advised bishops, popes, and kings. She used the curative powers of natural objects for healing, and
wrote treatises about natural history and medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees and stones. She is the first
composer whose biography is known. She founded a vibrant convent, where her musical plays were
performed. Although not yet canonized, Hildegard has been beatified, and is frequently referred to as St.
Hildegard. Revival of interest in this extraordinary woman of the middle ages was initiated by musicologists
and historians of science and religion. Less fortunately, Hildegard's visions and music had been hijacked by
the New Age movement, whose music bears some resemblance to Hildegard's ethereal airs. Her story is
important to all students of medieval history and culture and an inspirational account of an irresisible spirit
and vibrant intellect overcoming social, physical, cultural, gender barriers to achieve timeless transcendence!
Jutta was born into a wealthy and prominent family, and by all accounts was a young woman of great
beauty. She spurned all worldly temptations and decided to dedicate her life to God. Instead of entering a
convent, Jutta followed a harsher route and became an anchoress. Anchors of both sexes, though from
most accounts they seem to be largely women, led an ascetic life, shut off from the world inside a small
room, usually built adjacent to a church so that they could follow the services, with only a small window
acting as their link to the rest of humanity. Food would be passed through this window and refuse taken
out. Most of the time would be spent in prayer, contemplation, or solitary hand-working activities, like
stitching and embroidering. Because they would become essentially "dead" to the outside world, anchors
would receive their last rights from the bishop before their confinement in the anchorage. This macabre
ceremony was a complete burial ceremony with the anchor laid out on a bier.

Jutta's cell was such an anchorage, except that there was a door through which Hildegard entered, as well
as about a dozen of girls from noble families who were attracted there by Jutta's fame in later years. What
kind of education did Hildegard receive from Jutta? It was of the most rudimentary form, and Hildegard
could never escape the feelings of inadequacy and lack of education. She learned to read Psalter in Latin.
When Hildegard was 14, she and one or two others were enclosed in the church as anchorites, and soon
Jutta's anchor-hold grew connected to the male monastery of Disibodenberg. Hildegard began having
remarkable visions which she shared only with Jutta.
She traveled widely giving public speeches, a rarity for a woman of the time, and she communicated with
popes, bishops and even Barbarossa. Starting in 1158, Hildegard's travels over the next 13 years took her
to male and female monasteries and to cathedrals to preach to religious and secular clergy. She was slowly
able to enlarge and consolidate the new Bingen monastery's holdings. She also wrote non-visionary works
such as plays, geological treatises, a detailed medical encyclopedia, and notes for a medical handbook. She
felt that natural objects had curative powers, and wrote about natural history and medicinal uses of plants,
animals, trees and stones.
The Counts von Sponheim also played a role in the history of neighboring Bad Kreuznach. It was once a
Celtic settlement named Crucinacum, but early settlements date as far back as the stone age. Starting in 50
B.C., Bad Kreuznach witnessed 400 years of Roman occupation, and this gave the local people their
monetary system, laws, progress in agriculture, trade, administration and business. The Germanic tribes next
occupied the area, followed by the Franks who made the fortress a Royal Palace and reigned over the Nahe
region, making it part of the Frankish Empire which ultimately encompassed much of what is now France,
Switzerland, western Germany and northern Italy. The fortress along with the city of Kreuznach, was given
to the Bishop of Speyer. By the year 900, the existing town was reeling under the feudal era.
Hildegard was chosen magistra of the community when Jutta died in 1136, and Hildegard confided to
Volmar, another monk who would become her lifelong secretary, the story of her extraordinary visions and
he suggested she write them down. Later, the local Archbishop requested that Hildegard continue writing.
This resulted in the 'Scivias', a report of 26 visions that would sum up the Christian doctrine on the history
of salvation.
She is the first composer whose biography is known. Her own musical plays were performed in the lively
convent she founded. As a child in the monastery, Hildegard had listened to the musical interplay of words
and tones of the monastics' voices and the nuns' everyday chants for almost 4 hours a day and she
absorbed the essence of their music. She wrote a collection of her songs from her written music. She
finished her final tour in 1171, at age 73.
The Count von Sponheim built a castle on Kauzenburg along the opposite bank of the Nahe River to care
for the needs of his nobles. This formed the medieval Neustadt. The inhabitants of Kreuznach began
building in this direction for protection and the two towns were united by a bridge in 1241. The Sponheims
built their castle, Kauzenbergon, atop of the hill overlooking the town and it remained the seat of the
Sponheim dynasty until 1437 when the family died out. The plague struck in 1666, not long after the
ravages of the Thirty Years’ War, followed by wars of bloody conquest initiated by King Louis XIV of
France which laid waste to the entire Rhineland area from 1667 to 1689 and again in 1697 when the French
troops looted and burned down the town and castle. The population decreased by one-third.
By 1147, Hildegard was wondering whether the accounts of her visions should be published, so she wrote
to Bernard, abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Clairvaux. He responded favorably, and when Hildegard's
archbishop showed part of Scivias to Pope Eugenius, he suggested approving them for publication after
first creating a commission which came to visit Hildegard. They declared her to be a genuine mystic and
not insane, and with this encouragement, Hildegard was able to finish her Scivias and her fame began to
spread through the Holy Roman Empire and beyond.
She was still working on Scivias and writing hymns when she decided to leave St. Disibod with her nuns
and establish themselves separately at a new monastery on the Rupertsberg at Bingen on the Rhine. In
1151, she completed Scivias. Her visions were summarized and interpreted with assistance provided by
Volmar, with pictures of the visions in three books: Scivias, Liber vitae meritorum and De operatione Dei.
The books were printed for the first time in Paris in 1513.
The Romans were the first to discover Bingen's strategic value of the confluence area of the Rhine and the
Nahe, and Drusus had the Castellum Bingen built as part of the Rhine border fortification in 11 B.C. The
fortress remained solid until seized in 355 A.D. by the Alemannies who then reigned a short time until the
Frankonians declared Bingen as theirs. Otto 11 gave the "Bingen Country" to Willigis in 983, and Mainz
Cathedral received Bingen in the middle of the I5th century, with which it would remain united for centuries.
Napoleon annexed Bingen in 1804 and, when he was defeated at the Battle of Leipzig, the Rhineland was
returned to the German Association of States. In 1816, it was added to the Greater Duchy of Hessia. After
the Second World War in 1946, the victors carved up Hesse, with the right side of the Rhine remaining
partly Hessian, and the left and part of the right side becoming the new state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
The small town of Bingen was all once enclosed within the walls around Klopp hill where a castle was first
recorded in 1282.  The Basilica of St. Martin was built on the grounds of a Roman temple which was
partly ruined in 883 but later redesigned and reopened as a church in 1220. It went through much
destruction and rebuilding until about 1505 when it was enlarged as a basilica. During the Thirty Years War
Bingen was plundered, and again ruined later by French troops during their occupation in 1797.
The monastery in Eibingen that Hildegard of Bingen founded isn't there anymore, but there is a small parish
church in Eibingen with a shrine holding her remains and containing some of her symbols and images.
Nothing is left of the Rupertsberg convent, the French having destroyed its last remains in 1689. The
monastery where young Hildegard learned from Jutta and where she began writing Scivias is now in ruins,
but it once stood with banks on the sides falling steeply to the Rhine, which was then rockier and more
turbulent.
Hildegard von Bingen
- De Sancta Maria -
Ave Maria,
Responsorium
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