Song du Jour

Song du Jour

Benedictine Thoughts, Teachings, and Prayers

Hildegard of Bingen: Her Revelations - Part II

The above picture is taken from a relatively new film entitled, Vision: From the Life of Hildegard Von Bingen (Zeitgeist Films presents a film written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta.)

I am using this picture to show her not as a still icon after 900 years but as a vibrant Religious Woman whose ideas and theories in life, exemplify God’s breath in so many areas. God’s revelation spoke to Hildegard…


"Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God."…and this is how she responded to God all of her life; Hildegard became the feather. This is a quote from Emily Dickenson’s poem entitled, “Hope:”


“Hope” is the thing with feathers 

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.


In reading this poem, I truly believe that Hildegard of Bingen was wide awake listening to God and awaiting another vision so that she could weave God’s messages through her spirituality in every aspect of her life. As I see this amazing woman, Hildegard was truly God’s messenger trying to listen intently to her Master and then send her gifts and talents to as many populations that would be receptive.


Hildegard was a medieval abbess, Christian mystic, doctor, healer, artist, author, poet, pharmacist, preacher, counselor, dramatist, linguist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, political consultant, prophetess, visionary, and a composer of music. She is the first composer for whom a biography exists and one of her works, performed as a play, would eventually became an opera. She wrote theological, botanical, medicinal, dietary texts, letters, liturgical songs, poems, and the first surviving morality play: “the Ordo Virtutum is considered to be the first form and possibly the origin of opera.” Her “Scivias” which means: Know the ways of the Lord -visions, drawing mandalas which came from her spiritual illuminations. Hildegard was a woman of many talents at a time when women were not held in high regard. At a time when women were illiterate, she wrote major Theological works as well as visionary writings. Bishops, popes and kings looked to her for her advice. (


One example of Hildegard’s gifts was her ability to write; she wrote two books entitled, Physica and another entitled, Causae et Curae. These topics pertained to her well known healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones. In both texts Hildegard describes the natural world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals. She combined these elements with a theological notion derived from Genesis: “all things put on earth are for the use of humans.” She was particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones. She also questioned God’s effects on man’s health. One of her healings exhibited her healing powers by curing the blind with water from the Rhine River (taken from


There is one area of her life that is near and dear to my heart and that is her music. This is one of the reasons she is alive and well right now as I write this to you…she is 900 years old. This year is the big 9-0-0 for Hildegard, the 12th Century abbess who has become a 90’s cult figure. According to the medievalist Christopher Page, “we are mistaking the tail for the comet…She probably thinks of her music as the least of her achievements, compared to corresponding with popes, founding a convent, writing books about medicine, natural history, the lives of the saints, and visions and prophecies.” Since Page’s album, “A Feather on the Breath of God” kicked off the Hildecraze in 1982, the music of Hildegard has sold over a million recordings. No other medieval composer (or feminine composer of any era) has come close. Several dozen recordings are out, featuring everything from solo voice to Tibetan singing bowls to electric guitars and drums. Medieval-music specialist like the vocal ensembles Sequentia and Anonymous 4 compete with Hildegard-to-a-disco-beat CD that came out a couple of years ago and with a New Age Hildegard arrangement of Richard Souther on his CD “Vision.” I wanted to add that the singing group, Anonymous 4, which is comprised of 4 woman who sing Hildegards’ music a cappella and make their recordings at St. John the Divine in New York City because it is acoustically wonderful…no microphones.


Musicians are not the only ones interpreting Hildegard. Two films about her are in the works, a pair of novels is out, and dozens of Hildegard websites are up. In Michigan, this summer, you could have gone to a Hildegard “sacred healing” weekend and in Germany, you can still go to a Hilde-spa to receive treatments based on her medical writings. But musicians find a lot to argue about just as the scholars do regarding her music.  How to interpret it? This music composed by a woman in the 12th Century…how is her music to be performed and how is to be understood? What becomes of a 900 year legend? Hildegard may never have performed these songs at all but Christopher Page says that Hildegard wrote these pieces as acts of prayer in themselves…but no one knows what they were used for.  But one thing is for certain, Hildegard of Bingen is the hottest 900 year old on the music charts. (


There is so much to know about this extraordinary woman that I must continue her life in PART III for next week’s blog.

Song du jour

* * *
Saint Hildegard wrote this short beautiful musical piece that truly touches the soul:

Oh sweet divinity,

oh delightful life,

could I carry in you the garment of light

and receive back what I lost with my first appearance!

To You I sigh and call upon all virtues!


 Song du jour: taken from -

Art: is taken from


“That in all things God may be glorified.”


Sr. Jo-El McLaughlin, O.S.B.

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