Thoughts from the Rectory
for September 2021
I dare say the name Hildegard of Bingen will be unfamiliar to some readers. But I thought I’d share a bit about her, because she was such a fascinating woman. The reason I mention her now is that she is remembered in the calendar of saints half-way through this month (17th September).
Hildegard was a remarkable person, and her accomplishments are all the more notable for having been achieved by a woman in what was then a largely male-dominated world.
She was born in 1098 AD, the youngest of ten children, and brought up in SW Germany. At the age of 15, she became a nun, in the Benedictine tradition, and in due course prioress of the monastery in 1136. She had a series of thirteen visions, which she recorded, making it clear that these were not dreams or hallucinations, but had come to her “when she was awake, and looking around with a clear mind, in open places according to the will of God.” In these writings, including “The Book of Divine Works”, she described the essential and dynamic unity of all living things under God. She wrote poetry too, which has been likened to that of Dante or Blake.
She was also an accomplished musician, and produced 77 superb and original pieces of music, written for her nuns to sing. I’ve had a CD of her music for years, and I still find it beautiful and powerful. Her writings and music are still being published and recorded.
But she didn’t shut herself off from the world at all. She was a speaker, and counsellor, and wrote letters of advice to popes and emperors. Before the murder of Thomas à Becket, she wrote to Henry II, warning him about the abuse of power!
I love the idea of someone who managed to combine the contemplative life with the urge to speak truth to power. She managed to sustain a sense of the beauty and sacredness of life and the created world, while stirring things up to make sure that the world and its people were treated properly!
At this time of climate crisis, for example, I reckon we all need to try to emulate that: cherish the world, and challenge the complacent!