239. Writings of Hildegard of Bingen (1146-1179)

Source : Selected Writings of Hildegard of Bingen, translated by Mark Atherton, published Penguin, 2001. 

Thoughts :  I first heard of Hildegard when I was looking for the earliest classical music composers, and since then her name has popped up a great deal. This might be the universe bringing the same things around again, but probably more likely because this untrained abbess of a small convent in Germany in the twelfth century was not only a composer, but a visionary, an author (self taught Latin), a correspondent and advisor to popes, kings and emperors, a touring lecturer (in the days when nuns had to seek special dispensation just to leave their abbey at all, and never preached), an artist and a physician.

Her theological writings describe and explain her religious visions which she had received since she was a child, and the interpretations were likewise divinely provided. Her advice to powerful men uses metaphors and prophecies, and require the same level of concentration to navigate, which I confess are beyond me today.

Favourite quotes/scenes:

Hildegard’s parable of the source of her own strength :

“A strong king sat in his hall, high pillars before him covered in gold bands and adorned with pearls and precious stones. And the king chose to touch a tiny feather, so it soared up marvellously, and a strong wind bore it up so that it did not fall”  (pages 31-32)

The soul reveals its capabilities in tune with the capabilities of the body.

“In childhood she brings forth simplicity, in youth strength, and in the fullness of age .. she brings forth her greatest strength in wisdom … but afterwards in old age, when a human being’s bones and veins incline to weakness, then the soul reveals gentler strengths, as though tired of human knowledge. In the same way, at the onset of wintertime, the sap of the tree withdraws from the leaves and branches as the tree begins to incline towards old age.   (page 6)


I may not have even added this post at all and simply  moved on to the next book except for my discovery of this wonderful recording of some of Hildegard’s songs by the vocal group Gothic Voices, called A Feather on the Breath of God, featuring soprano Emma Kirkby.  If you can find a copy of this (it is on Spotify) it is definitely worth a listen. Even if you are not religious, it is such beautiful, uplifting and relaxing music.  10/10

Personal rating:  Those who appreciate theological writings will get more from this book than I could. 3/10

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