Midweek Medieval Blog: Hildegard of Bingen


I haven’t blogged in awhile, but I wanted to start a new series examining various people and historical events from the Medieval era of the Church. This series will hopefully be updated weekly and provide just a glance into a historical figure or theological movement from the Medieval Church. Today’s post is about Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). She led a religious community of women in Bingen (modern Germany). She was a noted preacher, speaker, and writer.

One of the more interesting aspects of her life was her tendency to admit only higher class women. She received some criticism for that largely because of the lowly status of the disciples, but Hildegard observed that “God created a layered society with a higher order and a lower order and that the lower order should not rise above the higher order” (F. Donald Logan, A History of the Church in the Middle Ages London: Routledge, 2002, 176). While this might upset readers today, particularly in Western societies, Logan notes that it was common for religious orders to cater one specific class of citizens.

She repeatedly experienced visions, which were written down in her work Scivias through her secretary-monk. Pope Eugenius III read her work and encouraged her to continue as a writer (Logan, 175). She had a wide audience among men and women seeking her spiritual guidance, advice, and even intercession before God (Logan, 177). There were other works attributed to her, but scholars have questioned their authenticity.

She was often seen as controversial and, at one point, found herself in hot water after she allowed an excommunicated man to be buried in the monastery’s cemetery (Logan, 178). This led to her community being placed under restrictions including no communion, singing, and only simplistic liturgies. This restriction, known as an interdict, was eventually lifted after the archbishop of Cologne intervened on behalf of the community (Logan, 178).

Her life was one of visions, teaching, writing, and preaching. Logan sums up her legacy as follows: “The Scivas stands in a commanding place in medieval religious literature and its author in the first rank of remarkable women of any age” (182). Hildegard of Bingen was someone who furthered religious communities, disseminated religious teaching, and left a legacy as a Christian author.