Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI formally canonised St Hildegard (though she has long been included in the Benedictine calendar and mentioned in the older version of the Roman Martyrology) and extended her feast to the universal Church, in preparation for her being declared a doctor of the Church next month.
Accordingly, in the Ordinary Form (as well as traditional Benedictine calendar), today is her feast day.
Saints and the life of the Church
She's my confirmation patron, so if you would, please say a prayer on my behalf today!
St Hildegard is a saint I discovered when studying medieval history at University many years ago, and at the time I couldn't understand why she was so little known, for her music and writings, and the brilliant manuscript illuminations she supervised to go with her works, seemed so compelling.
Not long afterwards, she was discovered and misappropriated by new ageists and feminists. So it is good to see the Church finally recognising and reappropriating the example of this saint for her own!
The Life of St Hildegard
St Hildegard was actually a child oblate, brought up by the anchoress and visionary Jutta. A community of nuns grew up around the two, and on the death of Jutta in 1136, she was elected abbess of the community. She moved her community's location in order to gain independence from the men's monastery nearby (much to the disgruntlement of the abbot), and went on to make another foundation as the community continued to grow.
Although St Hildegard never receiving formal instruction in the classical curriculum, she could read and write, and seems to have received some instruction in music notation and composition. She composed many musical works which have survived, one of the few known composers of that period. She wrote on a great number of subjects, including several medical and scientific works.
She is also one of those saints who would surely have been bloggers had the internet been available then: she was a prolific letter writer, calling to account popes, bishops, abbots, Emperors and others. She attacked simony and clerical corruption in the Church of the time, including through her extensive preaching tours.
It is, though, above all her theological works that have led to her current recognition. St Hildegard had mystical visions from a very early age, and these form the basis for a number of her works. In one of his General Audiences on the saint, Pope Benedict XVI commented:
"Hildegard's mystical visions have a rich theological content. They refer to the principal events of salvation history, and use a language for the most part poetic and symbolic. For example, in her best known work entitled Scivias, that is, "You know the ways" she sums up in 35 visions the events of the history of salvation from the creation of the world to the end of time. With the characteristic traits of feminine sensitivity, Hildegard develops at the very heart of her work the theme of the mysterious marriage between God and humanity that is brought about in the Incarnation. On the tree of the Cross take place the nuptials of the Son of God with the Church, his Bride, filled with grace and the ability to give new children to God, in the love of the Holy Spirit (cf. Visio tertia: PL 197, 453c)."
St Hildegard, pray for us.