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Hildegard von Bingen collected her visions into three books: the first and most important Scivias ("Know the Way") completed in 1151, Liber vitae meritorum ("Book of Life’s Merits") and De operatione Dei ("Of God’s Activities") also known as Liber divinorum operum ("Book of Divine Works"). In these volumes, written over the course of her life until her death in 1179, she first describes each vision, then interprets them. The narrative of her visions was richly decorated under her direction, presumably drawn by other nuns in the convent, while transcription assistance was provided by the monk Volmar (see illustration) with pictures of the visions. Her interpretations are usually quite traditionally Catholic in nature. Her vivid description of the physical sensations which accompanied her visions have been diagnosed by neurologists (including popular author Oliver Sacks) as symptoms of migraine; however others have seen in them merely colorful illustrations of the prevailing church doctrine of her time, which she supported, rather than actual visions. The book was celebrated in the Middle Ages and printed for the first time in Paris in 1513.
The scholarly interest in women in the medieval church has led to a great interest in Hildegard, including many recordings of her music. The Ordo Virtutum ("Order of the Virtues"), sometimes referred to as an opera or an oratorio, is a sung drama for women’s voices with one male part — the Devil — which she wrote for the nuns of her monastery. In addition to music, Hildegard also wrote medical hymns, medical treaties, and even invented an alternative alphabet to replace what were being used at the time. The music is popular today, but the alphabet never caught on.
Hildegard von Bingen or Hildegard of Bingen (September 16, 1098–September 17, 1179) was a German abbess, monastic leader, mystic, author, and composer of music. She is the first composer whose biography is known. Hildegard was born into a family of nobles in the service of the counts of Sponheim, close relatives of the Hohenstaufen emperors. Because she was a tenth child, and a sickly one from birth, at the age of eight Hildegard’s parents sent her as a tithe to the church (as was customary in medieval times). Hildegard was put in the care of Jutta (sister of Count Meinhard of Sponheim) just outside the Disibodenberg monastery in Germany. Jutta was enormously popular and acquired so many followers a small nunnery sprang up around her. On Jutta’s death in 1136 Hildegard was chosen superior of the community, and eventually moved the group to a new monastery on the Rupertsberg at Bingen on the Rhine.
From the time she was very young, Hildegard claimed to have visions. She received a prophetic call from God five years after her election as Mother Superior in 1141 demanding of her, "Write what you see". At first she was hesitant about writing her visions, holding them inside. She was finally convinced to write by members of her order after falling physically ill from carrying the unspoken burden. As news of her visions began to spread and gain fame in the 1140s, Pope Eugenius heard about Hildegard of Bingen by way of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. To determine if her visions were divinely inspired he created a commission which came to visit Hildegard and they declared her to be a genuine mystic and not insane. Hildegard was a powerful woman for medieval times. She communicated with Popes such as Anastasius IV, statesmen such as Abbot Suger, German emperors such as Frederick I Barbarossa, and heads of monastaries like St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Often they were asking for prayers, which were believed to be very effective, or on important matters to get her opinion. She traveled widely giving public speeches which was almost unheard for a woman of that time.
Hildegard was one of the first saints for which the canonization process was officially applied, but the process took so long that all four attempts at canonization (the last was in 1244, under Pope Innocent IV) were not completed, and remained at her beatification. However, she was already called a saint by the people before the canonization attempts. As a result of the long-standing devotion of the people to Hildegard, her name was taken up in the Roman martyrology at the end of the sixteenth century without a formal canonization process, earning her the title of saint. Her feast day is September 17.
(Contribution by George Elmezoglou <email@example.com>.)