Hildegard of Bingen Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was born into an aristocratic and prominent family in Bockelheim, Germany, but as a very young child she was neurasthenic, physically weak, and given to religious visions. (It is speculated that her visions of light may have been the result of migraine headaches; while this is certainly possible, those who suggest it obviously have never had a mystical “enlightenment experience.”) Her parents found it hard to cope, so after a mock funeral in which she supposedly died to the world, she was consigned to a convent cell (about the size of a walk-in closet) as an anchoress. As Vicki Leon notes in her discussion of Hildegard in Uppity Women of Medieval Times (Berkeley: Conari Press, 1997, p. 168), anchoresses, unlike nuns, were expected to stay in their cells until death. Hildegard, however, broke that tradition. With her in the cell was Jutta, who became her intellectual mentor. She learned Latin, reading, writing, and music. And as her religious visions continued, and her wisdom grew, Hildegard became recognized as extraordinarily gifted both intellectually and spiritually. Eventually, the powers that be decided to change her status to nun, and this shift meant she could get out, move around, and see a bit more of the monastery. And as her fame spread, many other women came to study with her, to the point that a nunnery developed around her. Hildegard was a mystic, poet, composer, playwright, healer, herbalist, and administrator. She wrote plays, an opera, and books ranging from theology to natural history. Prominent people wrote to her for advice, and she wrote back, a sort of Medieval advice columnist. Leon notes that she had some pretty frank things to say about sex—among her writings may have been the earliest description of the female orgasm. She did believe, long before the Renaissance, that men and women were equal (she’d been sheltered from the realities of societal gender roles, so she was going with what she saw as reality), and because of her prominence, she was able to say so without repercussions. Nuns were not supposed to venture outside cloister walls, but Hildegard, because of her fame, managed to travel widely. She collected and coalesced the wisdom of a widely dispersed group of midwives, healers, and herbalists, who shared their knowledge in an effort to make the lives of everyone better. Hildegard collected their knowledge in a book describing 485 herbs and plants. (These were members of the same class of women who in a slightly later time would be burned as witches.) According to Leonard Shlain in The Alphabet and the Goddess (p. 304), Hildegard spent the last years of her life in a struggle over the burial of a young man who had been excommunicated by the Archbishop of Mainz. Hildegard, playing out the same scenario as that of Antigone in an earlier age, believed the order was arbitrary and had the young man given last rites and a proper burial. The archbishop put her convent under interdict. She traveled to Mainz to plead for reason. She was ordered to submit, but she remained firm in her decision. Now, who do you think was more in line with Christian values? Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily