2300-2200 BCE800-9001000-11001100-12001200-13001300-14001500-16001600-17001700-18001800-19001900-2000Mezzo Cammin
Singer of the Secrets of God: Hildegard of Bingenby Maryann Corbett

here does Hildegard of Bingen belong? People from wildly different groups lay claim to her today. But even during her lifetime, she defied the usual categories of thought. In an age when few women wrote anything, she wrote long and elaborate books—works that we classify as mystical, theological, liturgical, medical, scientific, musical and poetic. Without formal training in poetry or music, she wrote great volumes of songs and directed their performance. In the face of canon law forbidding women to preach, she went on preaching tours, agitating for reform in the twelfth-century church. People from all walks of life begged her, in letters and in person, for encouragement, spiritual advice, and something akin to fortune-telling; one of her standard labels is "Sibyl of the Rhine." All this happened precisely because she claimed no particular abilities of her own. She claimed, rather, to be speaking the secreta Dei, the secrets of God, which were directly accessible to her in visions.

To modern classifiers, she is first of all "Hildegard, Saint," even though the formal process of her canonization became somehow stalled several times over. Enormously popular during the late Middle Ages, then largely forgotten for several centuries, she reappears in the twentieth century as the object of three separate kinds of attention. One is New Age holistic healing and "creation spirituality," which focuses on her medicine and physiology and claims her as a modernizing influence in Catholicism. A second is feminism and gender studies, both literary and religious, which claim her for the building of the feminist canon. A third kind, and the one that drew me to her, is early music scholarship and performance, which have produced a stunning richness of productions and recordings of her texts in their musical settings. In an apparent bid to reclaim her for the orthodox wing of Catholic thinking, and to highlight her role in church reform, Pope Benedict XVI declared her a Doctor of the Church in October of 2012.

All this flourishing means that there is a great abundance of material in print and online on Hildegard of Bingen in all her strange variety. A selection appears below, with links to more extensive lists. This essay has a more limited aim: to look at Hildegard's texts as poetry—this despite the fact that she never saw herself as the real author of the words she composed.

"A Visionary Life"

The facts of Hildegard's life come from several sources contemporary and near-contemporary with her. She writes about her own life in scattered parts of the long work known as Scivias, or "Know the Ways (of God)." Biographers—or more properly, hagiographers—who wrote during and just after her life give us added information. Some of that is confirmed (and some is confused) by the biographies of people whose lives were closely connected with Hildegard's. The many letters she sent and received add detail.

Hildegard was the tenth child of a family in the minor nobility, born in about 1098 near Bermersheim in the diocese of Mainz. While still a child, possibly as young as eight, she was presented as an oblate to the monastery of Disibodenberg and given into the care of Jutta of Sponheim, an anchoress. Oblate and anchoress are both terms outside modern religious norms: "Oblation" is sacrifice, and Hildegard seems to have been given to the church by her parents as a kind of tithe. The lives of anchorites and anchoresses were characterized by "enclosure"; they were literally walled in, into lives of solitary prayer, with the bare necessities provided to them through a small opening. The enclosure where Jutta and Hildegard lived was probably attached to the church of the monastery, so that they could hear and participate in the communal liturgies. From Jutta, Hildegard received a basic education in Latin, the psalter, and music. Anchoresses sometimes gained reputations for great saintliness and developed devoted local followings, and by that process more young women came to join Jutta and Hildegard, so that they needed a larger space and left their enclosure. Eventually, they were incorporated as a community of nuns under the supervision of the abbot, and after Jutta's death, they elected Hildgard their magistra or leader in 1136.

By the standards of medieval life and faith, nothing in all this was very unusual—except that from early childhood, Hildegard had experienced strange visual phenomena. She writes: "In the third year of my life, I saw such a great light that my soul quaked, but because I was an infant, I could reveal nothing of it" (Flanagan, VL 186). These experiences, with other symptoms, may have marked Hildegard out as an odd or unusual child; they may have influenced her parents' decision to offer her for religious life. But the experiences seem to have caused trouble, and she writes that she kept them secret for many years. Then at last:

in the forty-third year of my earthly course…I saw a great splendor, in which resounded a voice from Heaven, saying to me,

O fragile woman, ashes of ashes and filth of filth! Say and write what you see and hear. But since you are timid in speaking, and simple in expounding, and untaught in writing, speak and write these things not by a human mouth...but as you see and hear them on high in the heavenly places in the wonders of God. (Scivias, 59)

Modern commentators have varied opinions about the physical cause of Hildegard's experiences, and those opinions are discussed here later. Sometimes Hildegard describes the visual changes as visual only, but at times of great stress in her life the experiences included pain, paralysis, depression, and an assortment of afflictions. The interpretation she placed on all of them was that they were direct communications of God, both to her and through her to others. With few exceptions—for example, her scientific books—it was only as God's mouthpiece that she presumed to speak or write. She compared herself to a feather, which flies not because of any power of its own, but because it is upheld by a power outside itself (Letters I 111; II 23).

With the divine command to write, Hildegard began composing the Scivias, a project that ultimately took her ten years. She had the help and support of a monk named Volmar who, among other aids, tried to smooth out her idiosyncratic Latin. In such a long process, and because of Volmar's support, her abbot must have become aware of the work, and through him Archbishop Henry of Mainz. Through Henry, and because Hildegard had also written to Bernard of Clairvaux, the project came to the attention of Pope Eugenius (1145-53), who examined Hildegard's writings at the synod of Trier (1147-48). Not only did the pope approve the book, but he directed Hildegard to transcribe everything she saw and heard in her visions. With papal confirmation that her visitations were from God, Hildegard's place as a seer and prophetess—a religious role for women fully sanctioned by Scripture—was made firm.

We might say that from this point her career took off. Although she understood her writing to be a transmission of things seen and heard from God, she produced by this means incredible quantities of writing. Her musical output by itself is surprisingly prolific among medieval composers: sixty-nine texts with music, four additional texts, and the Ordo Virtutum. Besides music, her visions brought her writings of many kinds. There were three great books of moral theology: Scivias (Know the Ways), Liber Vitae Meritorum (The Book of Life's Merits), and Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works). There were also two books of medicine and herbology (Physica and Causae et Curae), an invented alphabet and language, and countless letters addressed to lay persons, kings and popes, and everyone in between. Directly and indirectly, she confronted not only individual problems of psychology and morality, but also social and political matters. A prime example is the Albigensian heresy, also called Catharism, a popular movement that by its firm avoidance of all worldly things—including sexuality—made more obvious the scandal of corruption among the clergy of the time. Hildegard's tours of preaching in 1160s were directed especially at the problem of venal priests.

Besides all this, Hildegard was an abbess, the administrative head of the monastery at Rupertsberg, where she had moved her small community of nuns in 1150. Apart from her writings, her preaching, and her reputation for holiness, what we know of her life's drama is about the monastery. She was deeply disturbed when Richardis of Stade, a nun who had been one of her chief assistants, was made abbess of a different monastery and left Rupertsberg. Hildegard wrote a letter—perhaps her only piece of writing entirely in her own voice, not God's—directly to Richardis, objecting in terms that betray real pain. And near the end of her life, she opposed the decision of her bishop that a man who had been buried in her monastery churchyard must be disintered because he had died excommunicate. Her refusal to disturb the body, although supported by her visions, prompted the bishop to put her monastery under interdict, depriving her nuns of the mass, the sacraments, and the right to sing the services of the hours. This painful period prompted some of Hildegard's most significant statements about the spiritual necessity of music and song, in her long letter to the prelates at Mainz (Letters I 76-80). The interdict was finally lifted shortly before Hildegard's death in 1179.

Vision, Image, Inspiration, Migraine? How Hildegard Composed

Hildegard's own statements about the nature of her visions have intrigued curious readers for centuries. The people of her own day were curious, too, about how God spoke to her, and some of what she wrote was in answer to their questions. When her "official" biographer, Guibert of Gembloux, pressed her for information, she wrote:

I am now more than seventy years old. But even in my infancy...I was possessed of this visionary gift in my soul, and it abides with me still up to the present day. In these visions my spirit rises, as God wills, to the heights of heaven and into the shifting winds, and it ranges among various peoples, even those very far away. And since I see in such a fashion, my perception of things depends on the shifting of the clouds and other elements of creation. Still, I do not hear these things with bodily ears, not do I perceive them with the cogitations of my heart of the evidence of my five senses. I see them only in my spirit, with my eyes wide open, and thus I never suffer the defect of ecstasy in these visions. And, fully awake, I continue to see them day and night. Yet my body suffers ceaselessly, and I am racked by such terrible pains that I am brought almost to the point of death. So far, however, God has sustained me (Letters II 23).

The work known as Scivias consists of recitations of such visions, followed by their theological interpretations. The most famous manuscript of that book, probably prepared at Rupertsberg under Hildegard's direction, was lost after being transferred to Dresden for safekeeping during World War II; an illuminated copy was made at Eibingen in 1927-33, and that copy is the source of the striking images now reproduced so often. Whether Hildegard was herself the artist is not clear; more likely she described the images and supervised the art. The image that accompanies this article shows her holding a wax tablet, as if she were sketching what she had seen so that the artist could execute it more fully (Caviness, "Artist," in Newman, Voice 115). Both the striking images and the vivid verbal descriptions fascinate by their unearthly, somewhat surreal quality, their disconnection from normal seeing.

That disconnect, and Hildegard's accounts of the wracking symptoms that sometimes accompanied the visions, have prompted some intriguing medical explanations. Charles Singer, in the early 1900s, and Oliver Sacks, in the 1980s, have both argued that Hildegard was interpreting the auras and visual scotomata associated with classical migraine. Sacks is a migraineur as well as a physician, and he looks at Hildegard's descriptions of her visions with special insight. For example, when she writes this of a vision that she understands as the fall of the angels—

I saw a great star, most splendid and beautiful, and with it an exceeding multitude of falling stars which with the star followed southwards....And suddenly they were all annihilated, being turned into black coals...and cast into the abyss so that I could see them no more.

—Sacks explains, "Our literal interpretation would be that she experienced a shower of phosphenes in transit across the visual field, their passage being succeeded by a negative scotoma" (Sacks 108).

Whatever the cause of the experiences, Hildegard's belief in the divine origin of the visions, and her moral certainty that she must relate them, allowed her to go forward with enough confidence to break through what might have been unbreakable outsider status.

Did Hildegard's contemporaries sometimes doubt that everything of Hildegard's making came straight from God? There are signs that some did, and they had reasons. An example often mentioned is a letter written to Hildegard by Tengswich, the head of a house of canonesses, which begins with the usual formula of praise for Hildegard's saintliness but soon changes in tone:

...We have, however, also heard about certain strange and irregular practices that you countenance. They say that on feast days your virgins stand in the church with unbound hair when singing the psalms and that as part of their dress they wear white, silk veils so long that they touch the floor...[with] crowns of gold filigree [with] crosses on both sides and the back, with a figure of the Lamb on the front, and that they adorn their fingers with golden rings. And all this despite the express prohibition of the great shepherd of the Church...

and here she quotes 1 Timothy 2.9. She goes on to express "wonder" that Hildegard only admits to her community women of noble birth (Letters I, 127).

Hildegard answers at great length, and her letter tells much about her notion of the exalted, quasi-magical nature of intact virginity:

Paul the apostle...observed that a woman who is subject to the power of her husband...joined to him through the first rib, ought to preserve great modesty....

But these strictures do not apply to a virgin, for she stands in the unsullied purity of paradise, lovely and unwithering, and she always remains in the full vitality of the budding rod. A virgin is not commanded to cover up her hair, but she willingly does so out of great humility....Virgins are married with holiness in the Holy Spirit and in the bright dawn of virginity, and so it is proper that they come before the great High Priest as an oblation presented to God. (Letters I, 128-29).

Writing about her practice of admitting only noblewomen, she discusses the God-given nature of lower and higher orders. She refers to the sin of pride that prompted Satan and Adam to wish to be more than they were. And she notes that one does not gather all kinds of livestock in the same barn. Clearly, the radical Christian equality of the Pauline Epistles ("neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free") did not figure in her thinking.

One might reasonably ask, with a modern mindset: How much in Hildegard's answer is ego, how much medieval groupthink, and how little a direct pipeline from the divine? But Hildegard had a medieval and thoroughly Catholic confidence in these positions, once she had papal support. As she saw it, her special gift, her virginity, and her monastic life all set her apart in a way that allowed her a freedom of creativity that modern artists might well envy.

Prose, Poetry, or Song? Hildegard's Unmetered Line and Medieval Chant

The anthologist F.J.E. Raby once gave Hildegard and her texts the following cursory dismissal: "Hildegard, the famous mystic, whose sequences are in prose...." (Dronke, PI 150) With the rise of free verse, readers grew more able to assess the poetic qualities of her texts. The work of twentieth-century critics has taught contemporary readers how to appreciate the rules of sound and thought that justify analyzing her lyrics as poetry, and the analysis here owes a heavy debt to them, especially Peter Dronke, Sabina Flanagan, and Barbara Newman.

Clearly, Hildegard's texts were unrelated to the two main models of verse form in the twelfth century. The older model was Latin quantitative meter, in classical measures such as dactylic hexameter or elegiacs. But by the twelfth century quantitative verse was becoming rarer and more mixed with the newer style for Latin verse, which was accentual and rhymed. Examples of rhymed medieval Latin that modern readers might recognize are liturgical sequences like Veni Sancte Spiritus and the works of the Archpoet, such as "Meum est propositum/In taberna mori....," best known in its setting as part of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.

Hildegard wrote neither the old nor the new measure. Her texts are meant to be sung, and her primary poetic and musical models are the chants of the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayers sung in monastic houses at the canonical hours of matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline. The formal patterns of her texts are those of the prayers. Most commentators assume that the songs were actually meant for the standard liturgies, although John Stevens, in a study of the manscripts, finds evidence that they were meant to be sung outside the liturgy as well. He also reminds us that during this richly creative time, all sorts of new rites were being invented (Stevens 165).The manuscripts by which the words come down to us—copies of Hildegard's major collection, called the "Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations"—are manuscripts of music, without verse lineation in the usual sense. Read without a musical setting, the words can be seen as a kind of art prose, and editors and translators tend to set them out like free verse. But their phrasing is best understood according to the rules of medieval music, especially chant. In medieval Latin, they are all cantus, a term that encompasses both song and artful spoken word.

Here again, though, Hildegard is described by most scholars as being outside any school or movement of her time (though Christian McGuire has an opposing view). Most commentators take her at her word that she never learned music's rules, and so see her as taking liberties and making expansions. Her chants are "Gregorianizing but not Gregorian" (Ritscher, quoted in Newman, Symphonia, 28) and more elaborate than the general run of sung prayer. Their vocal ranges are sometimes very wide and demand skilled singing. Some pieces, the antiphons and responsories in particular, are ornately melismatic; that is, long runs of notes stretch over a single syllable and the text can seem overwhelmed by the music. Hildegard's letters from and to Odo of Soissons make clear that by 1147—even before she had finished Scivias—she was widely recognized for writing "the melody of a new song" (Letters I 110).

Three Chants from the Symphonia

An example of this style of melismatic "new song" is the responsory "Spiritui Sancto," one of a group of thirteen pieces in celebration of Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgin companions, who according to legend were martyred at Cologne. Ursula is one of Hildegard's most prolific themes, second only to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Newman, Symphonia 308). In the columns below, I have laid out the first verse of the Latin to try to show how the very elongated phrasing of the music groups the words by the way it leaves and returns to the tonic and dominant tones. (Bumpass 164). The translation below is mine, and is meant to be literal rather than literary so that the phrasing of the Latin is highlighted.

Spiritui Sancto Link to recorded performance by Oxford Youth Choirs

Latin text:

Spiritui Sancto
honor sit
qui in mente Ursule virginis virginalem turbam
velut columbas collegit.

Unde ipsa patriam suam sicut Abraham reliquit.
Et enim propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi

Nam iste castissimus
et aureux exercitus
in virgineo crine
mare transivit.
O quis umquam talia

Et enim propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi

Gloria Patri et Filio
et Spiritui Sancto.

Et enim propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi


To the Holy Spirit
be honor,
who, in the mind of the virgin Ursula gathered a throng of virgins
like doves

And she left her own country
just as Abraham did.
And for the sake
of the Lamb's embraces,
from her pledge to a man, she also
tore herself away.

Thus, that most chaste
and golden army
with maidenly hair
crossed the sea.
O who ever heard
of such things?

And for the sake
of the Lamb's embraces,
from her pledge to a man, she also
tore herself away.

Glory to the Father and the Son
and the Holy Spirit.

And for the sake
of the Lamb's embraces,
from her pledge to a man, she also
tore herself away.

Kathryn Bumpass's reading of this piece not only lays out its musical structure but also points out how layered the text is with associations that were important to Hildegard. To her and her nuns, Ursula and her companions were models, and to celebrate them was to celebrate their own celibate separateness. Like Ursula's virgins, Hildegard and her community have left the world "for the sake of the Lamb's embraces," an allusion that brings in the entire complex of sexual metaphors associated with the Song of Songs, in which the Bride is both the individual lover of Christ and the entire Church, beloved of God. Note the stress on beauty—doves, golden—and on "maidenly" unbound hair, which recalls the ideas in Hildegard's letter to Tengswich. The verb abstraxit is a particularly vehement word for expressing renunciation of marriage, and the long musical setting, at the end of several repetitions of the response, stresses that vehemence.

Yet another layer is here: by connecting Ursula with Abraham, who left his own country not for his own reasons but because of God's command, Hildegard brings in the notion of the believer's humility and trust. The exclamation over the notion of crossing the sea is also remarkable. All of this stress on leaving may well be a commentary on Hildegard's removal of her community from Disibodenberg and into their own monastery, the Rupertsberg. This was an initiative that had brought her into prolonged and dramatic conflict with Kuno, Disibodenberg's abbot. Barbara Newman's research suggests that "Spiritui Sancto" was written after, and as a meditation on, that move: Hildegard's decision to take her "flock of doves" "away from their own country"—a decision she believed to be commanded by God—had been confirmed as the right one (Newman, Symphonia 310).

Another piece devoted to Ursula and her virgin martyrs is the antiphon "O rubor sanguinis," a gospel antiphon that, according to Newman (309), may have been meant to be sung with the Magnificat at vespers for Saint Ursula. The following is my translation.

O rubor sanguinis Link to recorded performance by Sequentia

Latin text:

O rubor sanguinis
qui de excelso illo fluxisti
quod divinitas tetegit
tu flos es
quem hiems de flatu serpentis
numquam lesit.


O redness of blood
which flowed from those heights
that divinity touched
you are the flower
that winter with its serpent's breath
has never harmed.

As an antiphon, this is a tiny commentary within a context that lets its meanings bloom. Peter Dronke notes the "directness and daring" of its images, which are "a meditation less on [the virgins'] particular martyrdom than on the essense of martyrdom" (PI 153). Newman observes that "Every hint of suffering or of history has been purged from this imagist piece." An apostrophe to the shed blood of the virgins, it turns the blood into a vision of the night sky and the ideal heaven; in Dronke's view Hildegard is here anticipating Marlowe, "where Christ's blood streams in the firmament." But the poem also transforms the blood into an undying flower, one that is not harmed by the serpent, which is both earthly winter and the unearthly power of the serpent Satan.

This sort of juxtaposition of images can seem a little out of control, or at least a little surreal. But in Hildegard's esthetic, everything is allowed that comes within the ambit of the idea behind the saint, or the mystery, being celebrated. Ursula and her virgins gave Hildegard a wide compass for some of her favorite ideas and images, which may explain why she wrote so much music devoted to them.

Another, and longer, piece that shows off some of Hildegard's best-loved words and themes is "Colomba aspexit," a sequence for the feast of Saint Maximin. It, too, works by tumbling together allusions from scripture and liturgy. (The following translation is taken for the most part from the liner notes to the disc A Feather on the Breath of God.)

Colomba aspexit Link to recorded performance by Gothic Voices

Latin text:

Columba aspexit
per cancellos fenestre
ubi ante faciem eius
sudando sudavit balsamum
de lucido Maximino.

Calor solis exarsit
et in tenebras resplenduit
unde gemma surrexit
in edificatione templi
purissimi cordis benivoli.

Iste, turris excelsa,
de ligno Libani et cipresso facta,
iacincto et sardio ornata est,
urbs precellens artes
aliorum artificum.

Ipse, velox cervus,
cucurrit ad fontem purissime aque
fluentis de fortissimo lapide,
qui dulcia aromata irrigavit.

O pigmentarii,
qui estis in suavissima viriditate
hortorum regis,
ascendentes in altum
quando sanctum sacrificium
in arietibus perfecisti:

Inter vos fulget hic artifex,
paries templi,
qui desideravit alas aquile,
osculando nutricem Sapientiam
in gloriosa fecunditate

O Maximine,
mons et vallis es,
et in utroque alta
edificatio appares,
ubi capricornus cum elephante exivit,
et Sapientia in deliciis fuit.

Tu es fortis et suavis
in cerimoniis
et in choruscatiane altaris,
ascendens ut fumus aromatum
ad columnam laudis:

Ubi intercedis pro populo
qui tendit ad speculum lucis,
cui laus est in altis.


The dove peered in
through the lattices of the windows
where, before its face,
a balm exuded
from incandescent Maximin.

The heat of the sun burned
dazzling into the gloom:
whence a jewel/bud sprang forth
in the building of the temple
of the purest loving heart.

He, the high tower,
constructed of Lebanon wood and cypress,
has been adorned with jacinth and diamonds,
a city excelling the crafts
of other builders.

This swift hart sped
to the fountain of clearest water
flowing from the most powerful stone
which courses with delightful spices.

O Perfume-Makers,
you who are in the sweetest greenness
of the gardens of the King,
ascending on high
when you have completed the holy sacrifice
The dove peered in
through the lattices of the windows
where, before its face,
a balm exuded
from incandescent Maximin.

This builder shines among you,
the wall of the temple,
who longed for the wings of an eagle,
kissing his nurse Wisdom
in the glorious fecundity
of the Church.

O Maximin,
you are the mount and the valley
and in both you seem
a high building,
where the goat went with the elephant
and Wisdom was in rapture.

You are strong
and beautiful in rites
and in the shining of the altar,
mounting like the smoke of perfumes
to the column of praise.

Where you intercede for the people
who stretch towards the mirror of light
to whom there is praise on high.

The wild mix of images and allusions here has less to do with the historical Maximin than with Hildegard's exalted and rich notions of the role of the priest, "strong and beautiful in rites," interceding for the people. Hildegard may not have known any of these biblical loci directly, but they would have been very familiar from their uses in the liturgy. Newman (302-03) gives a detailed working out of the many Scriptural echoes: the construction of Solomon's temple (I Kings 6); the eulogy of the high priest Simon (Ecclus. 50); the connection of the hart to the Lover of the Song of Songs, to the longing soul of Ps. 42, and to the water from the rock (Ex. 17); the connection of the dove both to the Beloved of the Song of Songs and to the Holy Spirit. She also points out how the images in series make a progression. "A gemma," she writes, "can be either a bud or a jewel; here it is both, and its mysterious 'rising' begins a series of heavenward movements which continue with the building of the tower, the priest's ascent to the altar, the eagle's flight, and the column of incense." Another clear link is to the jeweled walls of the twelve-gated city of Revelation.

Newman also explains the very un-Scriptural elephant, seemingly so out of place next to the biblical mountain goat. The explanation lies in Hildegard's bestiary; she writes that the elephant always sniffs the earth for the fragrance of Paradise and it mates only seldom. It may have been chosen here because of its reputation for chastity.

Some individual words in this piece deserve special attention because they are among Hildegard's favorites. The verb sudare (sudando sudavit) is not easy to translate, but for Hildegard it means a sort of distillation, like dew on grass, and is associated with miraculous appearance and the action of the Spirit. Pigmentarii, which is variously translated "perfumers" or "perfume makers" or "spice merchants" is an image that she uses elsewhere, and that seems to refer to the power to sanctify the world, as if with incense. Viriditas, greenness or verdure, is her most consistent image, used of saints, the Blessed Virgin, and all sorts of sacred power. It connects for Hildegard with God as the source of life, the perfection of Eden, and the revivifying power of the Holy Spirit. For the creation spirituality movement, these are the kinds of images that make Hildegard's work so compelling.

The Whole Hildegard?

The act of pulling the images and references apart, out of the flow of chant, can make them seem like a jumble, especially to modern readers not familiar with religious language. The same is true of any scholarly attention to one narrow area of Hildegard's writing. But to Hildegard and her listeners, everything she wrote was a cohesive whole bound up with her way of life and worship. How much was she conscious of the role of her own thought in what she wrote? She refuses to tell us, always maintaining her role as the mouthpiece of the divine. That may be why readers are fascinated with the idea of recreating her in fiction—for example, in the novel Illuminations by Mary Sharratt, or in the 2011 film, Vision. Both scholarship and creative work are moved by the impulse to see the real face of the woman who hid behind the secrets of God.

Works Consulted

Primary sources:

Hildegard, Saint. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman. 2 vols. Oxford University Press, 1994.

____________. Scivias. Trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. New York: Paulist Press, 1990.

____________. Secrets of God: Writings of Hildegard of Bingen. Ed. and trans. Sabina Flanagan. Boston: Shambala, 1996.

____________. Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum [Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations]. Introduction, translations, and commentary by Barbara Newman. 2nd ed. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Secondary sources:

Burnett, Charles, and Peter Dronke, eds. Hildegard of Bingen: The Context of Her Thought and Art. London: The Warburg Institute, 1998.

Dronke, Peter. The Medieval Lyric. Rochester, New York: Boydell and Brewer, 1996.

___________, ed. and trans. Nine Medieval Latin Plays. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

___________. Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press, 1970.

Flanagan, Sabina. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098—1179: A Visionary Life. London: Routledge, 1998.

Maddocks, Fiona. Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

McGuire, K. Christian. Symphonia Caritatis: The Cistercian Chants of Hildegard von Bingen. M.A. Thesis, University of Minnesota, 2007.

McInerney, Maud Burnett, ed. Hildegard of Bingen: A Book of Essays. New York: Garland, 1998.

Mather, Olivia Carter, "The Music of Hildegard von Bingen," The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies.] Accessed June 2, 2013.

Newman, Barbara. "Three-Part Invention: The Vita S. Hildegardis and Mystical Hagiography," in Hildegard of Bingen: The Context of Her Thought and Art, ed. Charles Burnett and Peter Dronke. London: The Warburg Institute, 1998.

______________. Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Sacks, Oliver. Migraine: Understanding a Common Disorder. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Stevens, John. "The Musical Inidividuality of Hildegard's Songs: A Liturgical Shadowland," in Hildegard of Bingen: The Context of Her Thought and Art, ed. Charles Burnett and Peter Dronke. London: The Warburg Institute, 1998.

Selected online resources:

Bibliography compiled by the International Society for Hildegard von Bingen Studies

Bibliography compiled by Dr. Werner Lauter of Rudesheim

Sound recordings:

Chants for Saint Ursula: 11,000 Virgins: Chants for St. Ursula, recorded by Anonymous Four. Harmonia Mundi 907200.

Ordo Virtutum, The Play of the Virtues, recorded by Sequentia. RCA B0000061LW, 1998. A Feather on the Breath of God. Christopher Page, Emma Kirkby, Gothic Voices. Hyperion 66039, 1985.

Hildegard of Bingen
Years: 1098-1179
Birthplace: Germany
Language(s): mainly Latin in her writing; some German in medical works
Forms: antiphons, sequences, responsories, hymns, liturgical and paraliturgical song, sung drama
Subjects: in her song texts, biblical and catechetical material; in her other books, mysticism, theology, science, and medicine
Firsts: First morality play, Ordo Virtutum (The Play of the Virtues), first invented alphabet and language
Entry By: Maryann Corbett
32 Poems
The Academy of American Poets
The Atlantic
The Christian Science Monitor
The Cortland Review
Favorite Poem Project
The Frost Place
The Iowa Review
Light Quarterly
Modern American Poetry
The Poem Tree
Poetry Daily
Poetry Society of America
Poets House
Raintown Review
String Poet
Valparaiso Poetry Review
Verse Daily
Women's Poetry Listserv
The Yale Review

Bread Loaf
Poetry by the Sea


Barefoot Muse Press
David Robert Books
David R. Godine Press
Graywolf Press
Headmistress Press
The Johns Hopkins University Press
Louisiana State University Press
Northwestern Univ Press
Ohio Univ Press
Persea Books
Red Hen Press
Texas Tech Univ Press
Tupelo Press
Univ of Akron Press
Univ of Arkansas Press
Univ of Illinois Press
Univ of Iowa Press
Waywiser Press
White Violet Press

City Lights
Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Joseph Fox Bookshop
Prairie Lights
Tattered Cover Bookstore

92nd Street Y
Literary Mothers
Poets & Writers