HILDEGARD VON BINGEN / by Caitlin Murray

Hildegard of Bingen: A Visionary Life

Benedictine / ORA ET LABORA (pray and work) / CONSERVATIO MORUM


And it came to pass in the eleven hundred and forty-first year of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Son of God, when I forty-two years and seven months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame not burning but warming…and suddenly I understood the meaning of the expositions of the books, that is to say of the psalter, the evangelists, and other catholic books of the Old and New testaments.

Music – “to give a sense of corporate identity”

LINGUA IGNOTA : an unknown language, a series of invented words corresponding to an eclectic list of nouns / and / LITTERAW IGNOTAE : an alternative alphabet – perhaps a secret code “if indeed they were anything more than an intellectual diversion on a level with crossword puzzles.”

METEOROLOGICAL PRODIGIES (an amazing or unusual thing, especially one out of the ordinary course of nature) – (both in and out of nature?)

Indulgence – “put off the old man and put on the new” / forming the single mystical person – breaking the attachment to creatures

the prophetic mould /  a mouthpiece / prophesy (past, present, future)

[Hortus Deliciarum (Gardens of Delights) – medieval manuscript / Herrad of Landsburg / the first encyclopedia that was written by a woman / 1185 / in 1870, the manuscript was burnt and destroyed when the library housing it in Strasbourg was bombed during a siege on the city (Franco-Prussian War) / one of the first sources of polyphony from a convent

female prophet : “God might specifically choose the weak and despised to confound the strong”

ANCHORITE / ἀναχωρητής / : “I withdraw, retire” – consecration, dead to the world / the cell of the anchorite – isolation tactics : walls, ditches, barred windows, the fenestra versatilis (a revolving hatch so that the nuns could not see who passed through provisions)

opus dei / vigils : A typical winter’s day would begin at about 2 a.m. when all (monks and oblates) alike) rose for the office of matins. This was the longest and most complicated of the offices and was meant to accommodate an entire repetition of the 150 psalms of the psalter each week. After matins there was a short interval before lauds, recited at first light, followed by prime at sunrise. The day offices were shorter than those of the night and were held at the first, third, sixth, and ninth hours, hence the names: prime, terce, sext, none. The evening office, vespers, was meant to be held while it was still light, and the day ended at sunset with compline.

Benedictine Meals [single meal in the winter and two in summer, consisting of two cooked vegetables or fruit and bread / no meat from four-footed animals was to be eaten, except by the very sick or very weak / the cooked dishes were generally concocted from beans, eggs, fish or cheese]

an inchoate light

[who are Abelard and Heloise] [their son ASTROLAB]

[kinds of reading : moral or tropological, the allegorical or mystical, analogical]

“The word of God was given her not in a nocturnal vision, but by an infilling of her reason, instructing that she should declare the things which were revealed to her from Heaven in writing and give them to the Church to read.”

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THREE MAJOR VISIONARY WORKS: 1. Scivias; 2. Liber vitae meritorum (Book of Life’s Merits); 3. Liber divinorum operum (Book of the Divine Works)  - writing life spanning from c.1140-74 or 75.

150,000 words or 600 printed pages of text


a way of grappling with the problem of how people should best live their life in order to reach the Heavenly City


Let whoever has sharp ears of interior understanding pant after my words in the burning love of my mirror and inscribe them in his soul’s inner comprehension"

“I heard again a similar voice from heaven speaking to me”

“And again I heard a voice from the heavenly heights speaking to me”

“And I heard that light who sat on the throne speaking”

the use of architectural imagery / floriditas "floweriness"

“But if you, O man, in the instability of your heart say to yourself, how does the offering on the altar become the body and blood of my Son, then I shall reply to you: ‘Why, O man, do you ask this, and why do you examine these things? Do I ask this of you – that you should pry into my secrets concerning the body and blood of my son? These are not required of you but rather that you, receiving them in great fear and veneration, carefully conserve them and cease to worry about the mystery” (Sc., 2, vis. 6, ch. 60)

Liber vitae meritorum

a farther and deeper exploration of the themes of Scivias / deals with the vices that beset mankind on his journey / treats the corresponding virtues, but more as a way of defining and describing the vices themselves

six visions / moving from one point of the compass to the other / correspondences /virtue and vice

Physica and Causae et curae

Physica  consists of nine books or sections, the first and most bulky of which is a collection of over 200 short chapters on plants. There follow books devoted to the elements (earth, water and air, but not fire), trees, jewels and precious stones, fish, birds, animals, reptiles and metals.

Since the balance of elements and their corresponding humours was what determined good or bad health in man, it was important to know the elemental qualities of plants / One could then determine their effect on persons who ate or used them, according to whether their effect on the persons were themselves in or our of humour – that is, in a balanced or unbalanced state.

hot cold dry moist

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the eagle is too hot because of its affinity for the sun

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Hildegard's cycle of over seventy songs and a musical play (Ordo virtutum - Play of Virtues)

antiphons /  responsories / sequences / hymns : liturgical songs performed for the opus dei

[antiphon: (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" and φωνή "voice") in Christian music and ritual is a responsory by a choir or congregation, usually in the form of a Gregorian chant, to a psalm or other text in a religious service or musical work / call and response, i.e. kirtan (India) or sea shanty / music that is performed by two semi-independent choirs in interaction, often singing alternate musical phrases / "oh happy days, oh happy days"]

[responsory: any psalm, canticle, or other sacred musical work sung responsorially, that is, with a cantor or small group singing verses while the whole choir or congregation respond with a refrain]

As an example, here is the responsory Aspiciebam, which in the Sarum Rite (the medieval rite of Salisbury Cathedral in England) followed the second reading, which was from the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, at the night office (Matins) on the first Sunday of Advent:

Respond: (started by the cantor and continued by the whole choir) Aspiciebam in visu noctis, et ecce in nubibus caeli Filius hominis veniebat: et datum est ei regnum, et honor: * Et omnis populus, tribus, et linguae servient ei. (I saw in a night-vision, and behold, the Son of Man was coming on the clouds of heaven: and sovereignty and honor were given him: and every people and tribe, and all languages shall serve him.)

Verse: (sung by the cantor) Potestas eius, potestas aeterna, quae non auferetur: et regnum eius, quod non corrumpetur. (His might is an everlasting might which will not be taken away; and his reign is an everlasting reign, which shall not be broken.)

Partial respond: (sung by the choir) Et omnis populus, tribus, et linguae servient ei. (And every people and tribe, and all languages shall serve him.)

Gregorian or plainchant/plainsong : monophonic, consisting of a single, unaccompanied melodic line. Its rhythm is generally freer than the metered rhythm of later Western music.

Gregorian chant is a variety of plainsong named after Pope Gregory I (6th century A.D.), although Gregory himself did not invent the chant.

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[sequence: In music, a sequence is the immediate restatement of a motif or longer melodic (or harmonic) passage at a higher or lower pitch in the same voice. It is one of the most common and simple methods of elaborating a melody in eighteenth and nineteenth century classical music]