by Dr. Matilda Warwick, University of Melbourne
Temporal Anthropologist studying the Middle Ages
Most of the great female artists and scholars of the Middle Ages found their way into the convents where they became anonymous and forgotten. One name that survived into the modern world was not only one of the great women of that time, but one who can stand toe to toe with any great man of any period--St. Hildegard of Bingen.
|Hildegard with her secretary Volmar|
|Hildegard's alphabet for her invented language|
Although the one room hut had been expanded, the twenty ladies soon found the place too crowded. There was no more room on monastery property for a larger convent. After much cajoling and going over his head, Hildegard finally got Abbot Kuno’s permission to move. And when I say she went over his head, I mean she went to the Top. She fell sick with paralysis, insisting God sent this as a punishment for her not moving the convent as he had commanded. Kuno dare not argue with God.
|Hildegard's vision of God and the Angels|
(God is the white light in the middle)
The convent church has been finished and Archbishop Henry of Mainz came here to consecrate it. For the ceremony Hildegard has composed the Ordo Virtutum (Order of the Virtues), a piece containing 82 songs. The plot is the struggle between the virtues and the devil for a human soul. All parts are sung, except the devil’s. Hildegard explained the devil is incapable of harmony and must grunt or yell his replies. The contrast is brilliant and makes the devil seem even more repulsive. The Ordo Virtutum is the earliest known morality play and the only medieval musical drama to survive intact. In fact Hildegard has one of the largest repertoires of all medieval composers.
The Ordo Virtutum is based on a collection of songs at the end of her first great work, the Scivia (Know the Ways.) The Scivia was finished just last year and has already received accolades from Pope Eugene III himself. This ten year project is based upon the visions Hildegard has received since the age of three. Helping her was her secretary and former tutor, Volmar. He is also the one that talked her into writing her visions down. Volmar also played the part of the devil into the play. A great editor, but a terrible singer, Volmar knows his strengths.
|Hildegard having a vision|
(and a migraine headache)
This is just Hildegard’s first book. She will also write hundreds of letters to religious leaders and rulers, many of which will be carefully preserved. She will even write a letter to Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Her advise is already being sought out by both the high and the lowly. In an age when women are considered inferior to men, they listen to Hildegard. Indeed they will come for miles to hear her preach when she begins giving public speaking tours in eight years time. Hildegard insists that being just a stupid woman, her insights can only come from God, a clever argument no medieval man can dispute. So when she later calls for social reform against church corruption, they will be afraid to condemn this prophet of God. One wonders what a gifted brain like that could have achieved in another age with a better education.
|another of Hildegard's visions|
(That is her in the bottom left corner)
Hildegard’s “musical” Ordo Virtutum
Revd. Prof. June Boyce-Tillman lets Hildegard “tell” her own story
Hildegard's music updated with a few instruments she wished she had