Pope Names Composer Hildegard of Bingen a Saint

Friday, May 11, 2012 - 08:12 AM

Pope Benedict XVI officially declared the 12th-century composer, mystic, author and physician Hildegard von Bingen to be a saint on Thursday.

Catholics have regarded Hildegard as a saint for centuries, and several church leaders have referred to her by that title, but the process of canonization was never officially completed, the Catholic News Service reports.

The composer has been the subject of multiple sermons by the pope as he sought to address the church sex abuse scandals. In 2010, Benedict called Hildegard a worthy role model for Catholics because of "her love for Christ and his church, which was suffering in her time, too."

In Hildegard's day, there were calls for radical church reform to fight the problem of abuses made by the clergy, the pope said. However, she "bitterly reproached demands to subvert the very nature of the church" and instead advocated atonement. He also praised her contributions to music and medicine.

Born in 1098 to an aristocratic family, Hildegard was sent to live in a Benedictine monastery. She was sickly and prone to odd spiritual and psychic experiences -- seeing dazzling lights, faraway lands and so forth. She described these in enough detail to arouse the interest, in modern times, of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who diagnosed her as a migraine sufferer.

Hildegard’s fame as a visionary allowed her to accomplish many things that exceeded the bounds of medieval Catholic society, especially once she was elected magistra, or head teacher, of the nun community at age 38. She began to protest the failings of church and pushed for reform. She also churned out her extraordinary array of creative treasures: more than 70 musical works, medical texts filled with 2,000 remedies and writings presenting feminine archetypes for the divine. She died in 1179 at the age of 81.

In the early 1990s, recordings of Hildegard's music hit the pop charts, a time when medieval chant, new age music and meditative practices were enjoying a boom. In 2010, she was the subject of "Vision," a German movie biopic which underscored her status as a feminist icon.

Along with the canonization, Hildegard is expected to be named a Doctor of the Church in October 2012, becoming only the fourth woman among less than three dozen saints to be bestowed with the title.

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Comments [3]

Mary Sharratt from Lancashire, United Kingdom

A long time admirer of Hildegard and her legacy, I am delighted that she is finally getting this official recogntion. Her ethereal music, her philosophy of natural medicine, her transcendent visions, mandala-like illuminations, and her insights on the immanent divine in the natural world have made her icon to people all faith backgrounds. I hope this new burst of fame allows many more people to discover her and enjoy her music and work.

Illuminations, my novel based on Hildegard's dramatic life, will be published in October and I would be delighted to share review copies with interested bloggers. Please contact me via my website: www.marysharratt.com

May. 12 2012 06:24 AM
Nathaniel Campbell

Intriguingly, Hildegard's reform rhetoric became ever more radical in her later year as she grew disillusioned with both the Church and the Empire as institutional authorities. While Pope Benedict's take on her views today are understandably more conservative, there was a time (a half-century ago) when his own ideas of Church reform might have been considered far more radical. Indeed, Joseph Ratzinger's early academic work was focused on medieval theologies of history and reformist apocalypticism, areas in which Hildegard's is a bold and influential voice. Understanding that medieval context is crucial, I believe, to understanding Ratzinger's own visions (and revisions) of reform.

You can read more analysis of the relationship between the Pope and the Prophetess at http://nathaniel-campbell.blogspot.com/2012/05/pope-and-prophetess-benedict-xvi.html

May. 11 2012 02:30 PM
Jim from NY

My favorite Hildegard recording is Anonymous Four's "11,000 Virgins".

May. 11 2012 02:14 PM

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