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Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen
‘womEn may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman’
Bockelheim on the Nahe River 1098
Rupertsberg near Bingen 1179
Born in Bermershein (now Germany), Hildegard was the 10th and last child of Hildebert and Mechthild von Bermersheim who were minor nobility of the Holy Roman Empire. She was dedicated to the church at birth.
An artists representation of Hildegard
As a child Hildegard was left much to herself because of her poor health and led a greatly interior life. For her entire life she was subject to visions which her sister Jutta noticed and reported to a monk of the neighbouring abbey. She later talks of about the visions;
....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...
Illumination- Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision
In 1106, at the age of 8, Hildegard was sent to live in a retreat adjacent to a friary in Disibodenberg. Here Jutta begins to prepare her for convent life. In 1113 Hildegard takes her monastic vows and becomes a Benedictine nun. After Juttas death she was elected Head of her sister community by her fellow nuns and she set up 2 female only convents, Rupertsberg and Eibingen.
Throughout her life Hildegard communicated with many important people including Popes Eugene III and Anastasius IV as well as German emperor Frderick Barbarossa. She travelled widely throughout Germany on her 4 preaching tours and influenced several monastic women of the time, including a nearby visionary, Elisabeth of Schonau.
Hildegard authorized herself as a theologian (expert) in alternative rhetorical arts [these included preaching, letter writing, poetry and the encyclopaedic tradition] and was creative in her interpretation of theology. She believed that her monastery should not allow novices who were not nobility as their lack of education put them in an inferior position. Her participation in rhetorical arts shows her significance as a female rhetorician, challenging bans on a women's social participation and interpretation of scriptures. The widespread acceptance of public preaching by a woman, even an acknowledged prophet like Hildegard, was uncommon during the Middle Ages.
During 1179 the clergy of Mainz discovered that a man buried in Rupertsberg had been excommunicated (cut off) from the church. Because of this the clergy wanted to remove his body from the sacred ground. Hildegard did not accept this idea, countering that it was a sin and that the man had been reconciled to the church at the time of his death. She died later that year on September 17th.
Hildegard was one of the first people the canonization process was started for, however the process was not completed and she remained at the level of her beatification at the time of her death.
Despite this failed attempt Hildegard's name was taken up in Roman Martyrology at the end of the 16th century.
In recent decades Hildegard has become increasingly popular, particularly her music. Throughout her life Hildegard composed between 70-80
'Universal Man'Liber Divinorum Operum 1165
pieces, which is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. As well as these compositions she also left behind over 100 letters, 70 poems and 9 books.
Hildegard wrote several books on her visions however she wrote 2 texts on natural sciences,
Causae et Curae.
In both her texts she describes the world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones and minerals. She combined these elements with a theological notion derived from Genesis 'all things put on earth are for the use of humans’. These texts particularly explore the healing properties of plants, animals and stones, though she also questioned God's effect on man's health.
Hildegard's alphabet - Litterae Ignota
During the course of her life Hildegard also invented an alternative alphabet, a form of modified Medieval Latin. This alphabet encompassed many invented, conflated and abridged words (see left)
Her holistic and natural view of healing has made the inspiration for Dr Gottfried Hertzka's 'Hildegard-Medicine' as well as being the namesake for June Boyce-Tillman's 'Hildegard Network (a healing centre which focuses on a holistic approach to wellness and brings together people who are interested in exploring links between spirituality, the arts and healing)
Hildegard von Bingen was born in Bermershein (now Germany) to Hildebert and Mechthild
Aged 8 Hildegard is sent to live in a retreat adjacent to a friary in Disibodenberg
Hildegard takes monastic vows and becomes a Benedictine nun
Jutta dies and Hildegard is elected Head of her sister community by her fellow nuns
Hildegard, who claimed to have visions from a very young age, receives a prophetic call from God demanding her to record her visions. She starts writing them down with the help of Brother Volmar and Sister Richardis von Stade
Hildegard founds the all-female Convent Rupertsberg,
Hildegard finishes her volume “Liber scivias domini” (Know the Paths of the Lord). She also writes books on natural sciences, including “Physica” (The Healing Power of Nature) and “Causae et curae” (Holistic Healing)
Hildegard makes several teaching and missionary tours through Germany
Hildegard writes “Liber vitae meritorum” (Book of Life’s Merits) and begins work on “Liber divinorum operum” (Book of Divine Works), the last of her texts on her visions
Hildegard founds the all-female Convent Elbingen, near Rudesheim, and embarks on additional teaching and missionary tours throughout Europe
Hildegard runs into conflicts with the Church for refusing to have the body of an excommunicated man who had been buried in consecrated ground dug up
The Church reverses the ruling against her that spring; on September 17, Hildegard von Bingen dies at the age of 81
- This painting (date and author unknown) depicts Hildegard (left) speaking to other nuns whose position suggests that she is their superior. As head of the sister community other nuns would have s
Source 1- Hildegard with other nuns
ought her help and listened to her visions and respected her, which would have been uncommon in a male dominated era. She appears to be offering her blessing to other nuns who were said to have travelled from all over Germany to receive her counsel. The painting also illustrates the clothing worn by nuns during this era and the painting style and colour pallet used.
- This image portrays Hildegard receiving a vision from God (shown here as the gates of Saint Peter). She received a vision in which God commanded her to record her visions and share them with the world
Source 2 – Hildegard receiving a vision from God. Date and author unknown
and the monk on the left shows her fulfilling this request. This painting also helps us to better understand the painting style of the Medieval period. The colour scheme is generally muted and although the figures look human they are slightly out of proportion. Finally the painting depicts the clothing worn by members of the church during this period.
- This illustration shows Hildegard's interpretation of the universe in 1151. Though inaccurate, it shows that Hildegard was able to look at the world from a scientific viewpoint, despite being a nun. It also illustrates how the universe was viewed in the Medieval era and while it appears to show the earth, the sun and the stars it could also be suggesting that a woman's womb was the centre of the universe.
Source 3- From the Hildegardis-Codex, 'The Universe' 1151
Together these 3 sources suggest that Hildegard was a highly respected woman of her time. Her counsel was sought after and nuns appeared to seek her blessing. Her visions from God set her apart from the other nuns and these visions formed the basis of several of her books and her preaching tours. As well as being devoted to the church and the principles of God she also had a scientific mind. She was able to view the world around her and the greater universe as not being created by god, but rather through science. She wrote several books on natural sciences, proving that she was not just a woman of God, but one of science. These sources also give us an impression of Medieval clothing and art.
Recommended Reading List
- Useful for getting a basic understanding but don't trust everything it says!
- Provides an in depth account (it may be a good idea to keep a dictionary handy)
Vision - The life of Hildegard of Bingen (movie)
Representation of the first vision in 'Liber divinorum operum'
Help Hildegard find her way home after her preaching tour
Use the code to reveal a message
Ruperstberg convent during the 12th century
Follow the link and listen to a recording of one of Hildegard’s compositions
Write an acrostic poem about Hildegard and her life
An artists representation of Hildegard
- Hildegard is also known as the Sibyl of the Rhine and Prophetssa Teutonica
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