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Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegardis Bingensis (Saint Hildegard, Sibyl of the Rhine)

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The best-known religious woman of the twelfth century was Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). She joined the double monastery of Disibodenberg in the Rhineland as a child and became the abbess of its community of nuns. In 1147 she experienced a vision that caused her to leave Disibodenberg and set up her own community, solely of nuns, at Rupertsberg near Bingen in the Rhineland.Hildegard was a cultured woman of wide learning: she composed music, was a prodigious letter-writer and wrote texts on medicine and herbalism. However, she was best known in her time for her visions, which were set down in writing and illustrated by the nuns of her community. The two books of Hildegard's visions are entitled 'Know the Ways of God' (lost since 1945) and 'The Book of Divine Works'.

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Hildegard of Bingen OSB (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis; 1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath. She is considered to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany.

Hildegard was elected magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136; she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play. She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias. She is also noted for the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota.

Although the history of her formal consideration is complicated, she has been recognized as a saint by branches of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. On 7 October 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named her a Doctor of the Church.

Hildegard was born around the year 1098, although the exact date is uncertain. Her parents were Mechtild of Merxheim-Nahet and Hildebert of Bermersheim, a family of the free lower nobility in the service of the Count Meginhard of Sponheim. Sickly from birth, Hildegard is traditionally considered their youngest and tenth child, although there are records of seven older siblings. In her Vita, Hildegard states that from a very young age she had experienced visions.

Perhaps because of Hildegard's visions, or as a method of political positioning (or both), Hildegard's parents offered her as an oblate to the Benedictine monastery at the Disibodenberg, which had been recently reformed in the Palatinate Forest. The date of Hildegard's enclosure at the monastery is the subject of debate. Her Vita says she was professed with an older woman, Jutta, the daughter of Count Stephan II of Sponheim, at the age of eight. However, Jutta's date of enclosure is known to have been in 1112, when Hildegard would have been fourteen. Their vows were received by Bishop Otto Bamberg on All Saints' Day, 1112. Some scholars speculate that Hildegard was placed in the care of Jutta at the age of eight, and the two women were then enclosed together six years later.

In any case, Hildegard and Jutta were enclosed together at the Disibodenberg, and formed the core of a growing community of women attached to the male monastery. Jutta was also a visionary and thus attracted many followers who came to visit her at the cloister. Hildegard tells us that Jutta taught her to read and write, but that she was unlearned and therefore incapable of teaching Hildegard sound biblical interpretation. The written record of the Life of Jutta indicates that Hildegard probably assisted her in reciting the psalms, working in the garden and other handiwork, and tending to the sick. This might have been a time when Hildegard learned how to play the ten-stringed psaltery. Volmar, a frequent visitor, may have taught Hildegard simple psalm notation. The time she studied music could have been the beginning of the compositions she would later create.

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