by Lis Conlon

August 2020

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Saint Hildegard of Bingen – Historical Heroine

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There are many historical pioneers in the healing arts that have inspired

me and illuminated my path as a natural therapist. I am grateful for these

herbal grandmothers and grandfathers - for their knowledge, wisdom

and experience. I greatly value the foundations and ancestral lineage they

have provided for me and for other contemporary natural therapy practitioners.


One of my historical heroines is an inspirational woman from the 12th

Century. An extraordinary seer, philosopher, correspondent, musician

and herbalist… Saint Hildegard of Bingen… also called Sibyl of the Rhine.

She was the tenth child in a noble family from the Rhine of Germany. When she was 8 years old her parents dedicated her to God by entrusting her to the head of a Benedictine Abbey for mentoring and tutelage. When she turned 16, with these mystic foundations in place, Hildegard chose to devote her life to the Spiritual Path by becoming a Benedictine nun.

Her beloved mentor died when Hildegard was 38 and she took her place as the Abbess of the cloister. After 30 years of dedicated guidance and mentorship Hildegard was well prepared to step into this leadership role. It was to become a life-long appointment as she went on to serve in the role in a second convent. She was an Abbess for more than 40 years until her own death at age 81.

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She was a courageous trailblazer in her own right and broke cloister protocol by openly preaching to the public and to the clergy. This was something that simply wasn’t done in the Middle Ages, certainly not by women and certainly not by a cloistered nun.


Hildegard was also a talented and prolific poet. She set her writings to devotional music in monophonic form and became a composer of sacred and worshipful chants. Monophony was a key devotional musical form in the Middle Ages where a single line of musical notes or a single vocal melody is featured. The music is also called plainchant or plainsong due to the simplicity of the compositions. In my view it is the

simplicity that adds a haunting beauty to this form of musical expression. Hildegard’s beautiful music continues to be appreciated, performed and recorded in these modern times; it is readily available on YouTube. 

 

Beyond her capacities for leadership, poetry and music, Hildegard also possessed a depth of sensitivity that rendered her capable of extraordinary levels of insight. She experienced many prophetic visions that began in her childhood and continued throughout her life. Her visions were not taken seriously initially, however they were later authenticated by a panel of theologians and written in a finished work called ‘Scivias’ (‘Know the Ways’) (1141-52). This was an unusual and notable accomplishment in an age where women were rarely acknowledged or published in the Patriarchal theological paradigm of the time.

Hildegard most certainly mastered the art of multi-tasking. Besides running a Benedictine Abbey, providing leadership for her fellow nuns, writing poetry and composing sacred music, she also wrote further prophesies, allegorical treatises and treatises on natural history and medicine. 

As a natural therapist and herbalist Hildegard believed in getting to the causal patterns of illness instead of suppressing symptoms. In her treatments she considered Hippocrates’ humoral and elemental approach to healing. The key objective was to resolve disharmony in order to restore health. Her approach could be described as holistic in the natural therapy terminology of today. It was natural medicine combined with spiritual knowledge - an application of the holistic triad that addresses body, mind and spirit. 
 

Hildegard was abundant in her treatises about medicine. She recorded approximately 2000 treatment protocols that emphasised the use of remedial herbs and nutrition. She included medicinal minerals, gems and metals in her treatments. Her remedies included accessible plants and herbs from her own garden that are familiar to contemporary herbalists, including Fennel, Parsley, Nettles, Ginger, Feverfew, Liquorice, Rose and Lavender.

Sadly, due to the Patriarchal paradigm of the time, it took 800 years for Hildegard’s medical and health knowledge to be formally acknowledged. It was a long time coming.

In 2012 Hildegard of Bingen was formally canonised as a saint: the Patron Saint of Musicians and Writers. Later that year Hildegard was also declared Doctor of the Church - she is one of only four women to have received that honour.

 

Hildegard’s work is in print today and her books can be readily sourced and purchased. Her books are a treasured part of my own private collection.

As a herbalist, musician and writer I am truly inspired by Hildegard of Bingen, her profound talents and her extraordinary accomplishments. Her light continues to shine, her writings continue to guide, her lyrics and music continue to inspire and her naturopathic work lives on.

Sources:

 

Healthy Hildegard Official Website, Scivias Summary and Images, viewed 18 July, 2020 https://www.healthyhildegard.com/scivias-illustrations/

 

Study.com Officinal website, Monophony in Music: Definitions and Examples, viewed 18 July 2020

https://study.com/academy/lesson/monophonic-in-music-definition-examples.html

 

Strelow, W, Hertzka, G, 1988, Hildegard of Bingen’s Medicine, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

 

The Editors, Encyclopaedia Britannica Official Website, Saint Hildegard: German Mystic, Viewed 8 March 2020,

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Hildegard

 

Throop P, 1998, Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica: The Complete English Translation of Her Classic Work on Health and Healing (Translated from the Latin), Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, USA.

 

Image Acknowledgements:

 

Photo of Hildegard von Bingen Sculpture Attribution: Christian Mittelhessen 

Ἀστερίσκος / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

 

Engraving: German Abbess and Physician Hildegard von Bingen Attribution:

Wellcome Trust Blog See page for author / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

 

Photo of Hildegard von Bingen sculpture Attribution: Gerda Arent

Gerda Arendt / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

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