A Tribute to Womanhood
Welcome to "I Am Woman"...a tribute to all those women who had the courage and perseverance to stand up and fight for their rights. Thanks to those who came before us we enjoy a freedom unknown to women not too long ago. But, sadly, in many parts of the world, women continue to be repressed. In fact, even in this country there are women living today under the threat of violence...completely controlled by a violent spouse. Some may make it; others won't. Hopefully, one day ALL women will be free. May that day come soon.
Hildegard of Bingen
(Medieval mystic, prophet, and visionary)
Hildegard of Bingen was born at Bockelheim, West Franconia. She was the 10th child of a wealthy Christian family, and when she was born, her parents made a decision to dedicate this child to God when she reached a suitable age. So, Hildegard, a sickly child, from birth was destined to live a cloistered life rather than marry and have children. She was provided with little education, but from an early age, she learned to sing and chant in Latin.
When Hildegard reached the age of 8, she was placed in the care of an anchoress named Jetta. Now, an anchoress is not your average nun. An anchoress lives alone in a cell with their food being passed to them through a small window. Theirs is a life of solitary and spent mostly in meditation or handiwork. Jutta taught Hildegard how to read and instilled a thirst for knowledge in the girl, and she received the religious education of a recluse. At 15, Hildegard became a Benedictine nun and went on with her studies in natural history, German folk medicine, and ancient Greek cosmologies.
And all the while, she was experiencing inexplicable visions which, at times, terrified her. The visions began at the age of 3 and lasted throughout her life. Later she characterized them as a period of illness followed by visual disturbances in the form of flickering, dazzling light. Today, we recognize these as symptoms of a migraine. The visions exhausted and drained her of her strength, and keeping them a secret from everyone, was especially wearing on her. But, she dared not tell anyone for fear they would think her crazy, or worst yet, think the devil was communicating to her. It is a tribute to her remarkable spirit and her intellectual powers that she was able to turn this debilitating illness into the word of God and create so much with it.
Jutta died when Hildegard was 38, and she was unanimously elected as the new abbess. Now, until that point, the monastery was a part of a double house, with units for men and for women, but Hildegard decided to move the convent to a place where it was on its own and not directly under the supervision of a male house. This gave her a lot of freedom as its administrator, and she watched her convent grow to as many as 50 women. And, at age 42, she began to write about her visions and prophesies; many believed her to be a true prophetess of God.
Now, during this time, there was no such thing as a medical practice as we know of it today, and people went to the monasteries for help with their ailments, and Hildegarde was an expert on the curative value of herbs...today known as 'holistic medicine'. And, she was actually the only medieval woman to leave any account of her wise woman healing practices...many which are still in practice today. For example, she promoted both a balanced diet and encouraged everyone to brush their teeth with aloe and myrrh. She was the first to recommend bilberries for respiratory complaints and celery seed to treat gout.
Music was very important to her, and she is probably best known today for her beautiful ethereal music. She wrote hymns and sequences of honor to saints, virgins, and Mary. She introduced a magical harmony which over the last few decades has been undergoing a revival.
A final famous incident occurred when she was in her eighties. A nobleman, who had been excommunicated by the church, passed away, and she allowed him to be buried at the convent, making sure that the man had the last rites. She claimed that God had sent word allowing the burial, but the authorities stepped in and ordered the body to be exhumed. Hildegarde defied them by hiding the grave, and the entire convent community was excommunicated. Eventually, she was forced to comply and the interdict was lifted.
On September 17, 1179, she died, loved and revered, among her beloved nuns. She was a saint to everyone whose life she had touched, but not in the eyes of Rome. Hildegarde had been a remarkable woman, and at a time when few women wrote, she was known as "Sybil of the Rhine". She produced major works in theology and visionary writings. And at a time, when few women were accorded with respect, she was consulted by bishops, popes, and kings. She is the first composer whose biography is known. Her story is one of a woman who overcame social, physical, social, and gender barriers to achieve timeless transcendance.