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HILDEGARD’S LIFE AND INFLUENCE

32. Queries and Requests: Selected Letters to Hildegard

In the twelfth century, writing a letter was rather like composing a speech. The main intended effect was aural, and the purpose was to convey the spoken word by another medium, so that the recipients of the letter could hear ‘the voice of the absent person’ who had composed it. When it was received, the letter was read out loud, so that all present, whether literate or not, could participate in its message.

The communal nature of the letter meant that its style was oral and rhetorical, with a conventional structure of salutation, exordium, narration, petition and conclusion. Hildegar’s first letter, for instance, the appeal to Bernard of Clairvaux (which has already been considered for its content in the Introduction), could be analysed structurally along these lines, and more examples of conventionally structured letters are found below. At least in theory, the opening of the letter, the salutation, had to obey a rule whereby the names of sender and recipient were placed in order of seniority. The exordium that followed then set the tone for the letter, with a suitable biblical quotation or moral to capture the attention of the recipient(s).

If the sender was an important writer, then the letter would be valued very highly both in itself, as a token of the friendship of the sender, and also for its message and content. This phenomenon is partly to be explained by the long and expensive process involved in sending a letter. The message was first dictated to a scribe, who would take notes on his wax tablet, translate the letter if necessary, and then transcribe it onto parchment. It would then be delivered: important bishops and abbots had their own messengers, but otherwise the letter would have to await the arrival of a carrier already travelling in the same direction. Naturally this led to delays in the receipt of letters, and a corresponding value was attached to them when they finally arrived. Sometimes private messages were also conveyed by the bearer of the letter to ensure that they did not reach the wrong ears. Often when a letter was composed for posterity, a copy was retained before the original was sent, and an important author would have his or her letters gathered, edited and in some cases rewritten for the final collection.

As far as Hildegard’s correspondents are concerned, most are important people of her day, perhaps not surprising when we recall that she was a member of an established noble family from Bermersheim. She was frequently approached with specific requests, for instance for texts of sermons she had preached, or for advice on particular matters. Though the subject-matter of letters to Hildegard is usually spiritual, it also concerns political matters, whether of Church or state; in the present selection there are allusions to the Second Crusade, the Synod of Trier, the Council of Rheims, and the schism between pope and emperor, as well as to abuses and corruption within the Church itself. Two of her correspondents here – Bishop Henry of Liège, and Archbishop Eberhard of Salzburg – were to a greater or lesser extent supporters of the Emperor Barbarossa, and both are named witnesses to the imperial deed of protection which Barbarossa issued to the Rupertsberg in 1163 during the wars and disturbances of the schism. Other correspondents1 include an abbess without an abbey (Gertrud), and a Paris academic.

Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux to Hildegard, 1146–7 [Letter 1R]2

To his beloved daughter in Christ, Hildegard, from Father Bernard, called the Abbot of Clairvaux. If the prayer of a sinner can be of some effect.

You seem to hold our meagre status in greater esteem than our own conscience allows, but we attribute this to your humility. Nevertheless I have by no means neglected to reply to your charitable letter, although the numerous duties of this office compel me to keep my reply shorter than I would wish.

We wish you joy in the grace of God that is within you, and for our part we beseech you to acknowledge it as grace and to respond with all the affection of humility and devotion, knowing that ‘God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble’.3 For the rest, where there is clearly inner knowledge and anointing that teaches all things, what remains for us to teach or admonish? Rather we humbly entreat you to remember us before God, along with those who are in spiritual communion with us.

Odo of Soissons to Hildegard, 1148 [Letter 40]4

To the lady Hildegard, the exalted maiden of Christ, from the humble and unworthy Odo of Paris, master, but only in title and position. I send you my prayers and whatever else is deemed worthy for a person of such sanctity and nobility.

Because, Lady, you have made yourself the servant of Christ, he has raised you above yourself. It is believed that in part the secrets of the virginal bridal chamber have been revealed to you, though you are still here in the flesh. You are believed to be one of those of whom it is sung: ‘The king has brought me into his chamber.’5

But a prophetic and faithful soul says sighing: ‘My secret to myself, my secret to myself.’6 And King Hezekiah opened up the storehouses of his aromatic spices and the treasuries of the temple to the messengers from Babylon and so grievously angered the Lord.7Nevertheless, blessed are they who so far excel us sinners that they can discern heavenly matters. And on the paths they walk they are open to the spirit of discernment for those who by the grace of God have gained treasures more by being tested than by revelation. And here below among men and women they learn from their visions what they should reveal and what they should conceal. Since in their humility they allow God to confer the gift upon them, they place certain things under a seal,8 and they do not make known any things that might disturb the apostolic and ecclesiastical institutions. Wise woman! listen to these things, for ‘the woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.’9 They say that you are taken up in the heavenly places and see many things which you bring out in your writing; also, that you bring forth the melodies of a new song10 although you have not studied any of these things.

We are not at all surprised about these things, for they do not exceed the expectations we have of your purity and sanctity, without which no one can achieve any such things. But what we can know is that whatever is revealed about the saints there, manifests their glory; and whatever is practised by them here, demands a kind of humility.

As far as we are concerned, we are a long way away from you, but we have the confidence to ask of you the following request. The fact is that many scholars argue that God is not identical with both paternity and divinity.11 Please expound to us what you see in the heavens about this problem and send it to us. Farewell.

Heinrich, Archbishop of Mainz, to Hildegard, 1151 [Letter 18]12

Heinrich, Archbishop of the see of Mainz by the grace of God, to Hildegard the beloved mistress of the Rupertsberg. Grace be with you and our fatherly affection.

Since we have heard great and marvellous things about you, our neglect in not visiting as often as we could is to be condemned. But prevented by many matters, only rarely and reluctantly do we lift our soul to the things that are eternal.

But to come to the point of this letter: we hereby announce to you that some messengers, religious from a certain noble church, have come to petition us about a sister who is still living in a nun’s habit in your monastery.13 They are asking that she be released to them now that she has been elected as abbess. Therefore by our authority as prelate and spiritual father, we command you, and conjoin you by this command, to release her immediately for her office to those who seek her and need her. If you do this, you will have our gratitude from this day forth more than ever before. If you do not, we will command you again more forcefully, and we will not cease until you fulfill our instructions in this matter.

Henry, Bishop of Liège, to Hildegard, 1148–53 [Letter 37]14

Henry, by the grace of God Bishop of Liège, to Hildegard the servant of Christ and of Saint Rupert at Bingen. May you serve the King of kings unceasingly and gain the prize of eternal joy.

Finding myself in great turbulence of mind and body, I decided to write to you because I need God’s mercy, for I must admit that I have angered his mercy with many evil actions. Therefore, dearest sister, because I know for certain that God is with you, I urge and admonish you in your sanctity, through his mercy, to give me your hand as I waver completely and as I take my refuge in you. Make it your concern to watch over me with devout prayers, that my negligence may be taken from me.

Do reply to this letter and tell me what the living light has revealed to you so that I can rouse myself from sleep. May the most merciful God grant that through you I will perceive a most certain comfort in your writings. And may he grant me through your intercessions to enter the final dwelling-place of eternal peace.

Arnold, Archbishop of Cologne, to Hildegard, 1150–(?) 56 [Letter 14]15

Arnold, Archbishop of Cologne by the grace of God, to Hildegard, a burning lamp in the house of the Lord at the Rupertsberg. May you remain always under the protection of the heavenly God.

If you are progressing well, and if all the things around you are guided by God, then we will rejoice. And because of your merits we too are progressing well. But we are unable to come to see you as we had arranged some time ago. As far as we are able at present, however, we will commit ourselves to you, placing our hands in yours, joining our faith to your faith and commending ourselves wholly to you.

Meanwhile, whether or not it is finished, do not hesitate to send us by messenger post the book you wrote under the inspiration of God’s Spirit when you were far away from any interference.16 For we are unable and unwilling to be without it. We do not want to tempt God; rather we wish to see his miracles and wonders.

The nun Gertrud (of Stahleck) to Hildegard, after 1161 [Letter 62]17

To Hildegard, her most lovable mother in Christ, from her own Gertrud, with a true petition that God may grant ‘things which the eye saw not, and the ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man’.18

I am at a loss as to what I should say or write to such a unique and beloved mother in Christ, for the power of love has taken from me all knowledge of speech. Indeed, your divine absence has made me drunk on the wine of sorrow.19 This has upset me so much that I feel an aversion not only to dictating a letter, but even to life itself. For I could almost believe it better never to have seen you, never to have felt your great and heartfelt kindness towards me – all this rather than my ceaseless mourning for the great distance that separates me from you as though you were lost.

But I hope in my God, I say my God, because I have nothing dearer than him, and I hope that he will never allow me to put aside this frail body before he has granted me the sweet joy of seeing you and hearing you speak so beautifully. But if this does not happen, because of my sins, I trust in his goodness that he will not frustrate my hope of allowing me to see you there, where we will never be separated from his sight.

What more is there to say? I ask you, dearest mother, to pray for me to him in whose embraces you remain constant and in whose shade you repose, please pray that I will escape like a young roebuck from the heat of vices and temptations. I am still wandering and searching for him, but alas without finding him. Please pray that he will reveal himself to me and I will find him. May he allow me to sit in the shade of the one whom I desire.20 Farewell.

The Abbess of St Theodore and St Mary, Bamberg, after 1157 [Letter 61]21

To Hildegard, beloved lady and mother, venerable in her religious life and dignity, from L., although unworthy, an abbess in name only at Bamberg, one only among all the nuns committed to God. You are often in our prayers, in whatever way the devout and frequent prayers of the lowly can be of benefit.

Blessed lady, we rejoice in Christ, as much as we are capable, that the Lord who has ordained you as his elect has illumined and filled our times with the spirit of prophecy. Christ therefore has encouraged us in this above all, that he not only foresaw and predestined you of the female sex, but his grace also enlightened many people through your teaching. We therefore offer our great thanks for you and we petition with humble prayers that the deeds he has begun in you he will bring to perfection by his mercy, until he leads you to the things of eternity.

We humbly beseech you that you will find us worthy of being received into your fellowship and that you will eagerly commend us to your holy community and strengthen us with letters of support. Farewell, beloved lady.

An Abbess of Altena to Hildegard, before 1173 [Letter 49] 22

To the lady and mother Hildegard, loving and worthy in Christ, intimate with his love, from N., the Abbess of Altena, although undeserving, a penitent sinner sitting with Mary at the feet of Christ23 and hoping to see her loved one just as he is.

I wish you joy in your blessed state, most loved of all women. As can be proved by your most evident delights, you have found the One whom your soul loves as much as is possible for mortal people to do. And spending happy times with him now in the secret chamber of your heart,24 you have tasted and seen that the Lord is sweet.25

I realize that I must bear with equanimity that although I am so devoted to you, you have neglected to visit me with your letters. For I believe that if you could avert the eye of your mind for a moment from the contemplation of your beloved and take a step outside your dwelling-place of peace, you could not fail then to console me more often with your messenger, who would make me happy with reports of your health and would carry back news of me to you. For if it is not given to me to see your beloved face again in this life (and I cannot say this without shedding tears) nevertheless I will always be happy about you, for I have decided to love you like my own soul. And so I will see you with the eye of prayer until we reach our destination. There we will see each other forever and we will earn the right to contemplate our beloved face to face26 in all beauty.

Eberhard, Archbishop of Salzburg, to Hildegard, 1163–4 [Letter 25]27

Eberhard, by the grace of God servant and Archbishop of the Church at Salzburg, although unworthy, to Hildegard the sister and mistress of the Rupertsberg at Bingen, I pray (if the prayer of a sinner has any worth) that after the triumph over the flesh you will enter with your wise virgins into the embraces of the heavenly bridegroom.28

I am a sinner placed in this vale of tears, exhausted by the many winds and storms of this age; I have passed through fears within and fears without. Eagerly I ask for your love, that you would be willing to pour forth your petitions on my behalf, so that divine compassion will open the heart of piety to me and mercifully carry me away from all my troubles. For because of the schism that has now affected the Church, the Emperor is attempting to use force against us.

O virgin worthy to God, in your love you will remember that when I was at the Emperor’s court at Mainz,29 I eagerly commended myself to your holy name so that through your intercession, the status of my life would be advanced in the Lord and come to a happy fruition. You also promised me in my unworthiness that once you had received my letter you would not hesitate to write a reply according to what the Lord was willing to reveal to you. In my unworthiness I beg you in your sanctity to fulfill the obligation of that promise.

Farewell, virgin of God, and remember me. Whatever you may write in reply, please place it under a seal.30

Abbot Adam to Hildegard, before 1166 [Letter 85]31

To the lady, his beloved mother, Hildegard, mistress of the sisters at Rupertsberg in Bingen, from brother Adam, although unworthy, of Ebrach. I write what little I can.

When I first received the fame of your name, I rejoiced with a great joy.32 God increased my joy when, with a command both benevolent and marvellous, he directed you to show your face and allow your voice to be heard in our land.33And he allowed me something I had scarcely been able to hope for, namely a meeting and conversation with you. At our meeting, as I expect you remember, I told you of my anxiety. And because different people feel different things – some having this experience, others that – if my prosperity and salvation is assured before the Lord then God be praised. But if there is danger, please pray to God that he will grant my soul prosperity and salvation and guard me against any kind of danger.

On your behalf now, I am sending a messenger with a letter to the Emperor. And I hope by the grace of God that we will be heard. On any occasion where you need our assistance, we will be ready to serve you.

We pray also that you will be able to pray for us, for we are tossed by a storm of worry for our brothers. We pray that the grace of the Holy Spirit, which works many wonders in you by the spirit of prophecy, will also look to us and protect us. We ask also that your letter will console us and strengthen us.

33. From The Life of Hildegard, Book 2, by Theoderich of Echternach

Begun in a conventional style by Gottfried of Disibodenberg, who wrote the first of the three books which make up the whole work, the Life of Hildegard was commissioned by Ludwig of Trier and another Gottfried, two men who had both served as abbots at the monastery of Echternach, now in Luxembourg. The new author Theoderich included otherwise unknown autobiographical material in his text, which gives the work an additional interest.

Theoderich of Echternach, Life of Hildegard, Book 2

1. So this blessed virgin began her book of visions at Disibodenberg, and completed it at the place to which she had moved at God’s command. She revealed certain things about the nature of the human being, the elements and the diversity of created things, and how the human being is to be helped by a knowledge of such things;1 and she made known many other secrets with prophetic spirit.

It is also known how elegantly she replied to letters sent to her from diverse places, if anyone wished to consider more deeply the meaning of the words that she drew from the divine revelation. Indeed, the correspondence is gathered in one volume, both her own letters and those sent to her.

Who is not amazed that she published songs with the sweetest melody in marvellous harmony?2 And she compiled an alphabet of letters never seen before and a language never heard before. Apart from this, she commented on the Gospels and wrote other typological expositions.3 And because all these things were unlocked for her by the key of David ‘that openeth and no man shutteth, shutteth and no man openeth’,4 her soul could rejoice with good cause and sing that ‘the king hath brought her to his storerooms’5that she might be ‘inebriated with the plenty of his house’,6 and so that by fear of the Lord, as is written, she will conceive and give birth and bring the spirit of salvation over the earth.7

This is a good thing and worthy of praise, that those things which she heard and saw in the spirit she kept in her pure and careful mind, wrote down with her own hand and passed on orally with the same wording and the same meaning. In so doing, she was content to have one single faithful man as her fellow initiate,8 who presumed, for the sake of the art of grammar of which she was ignorant, to correct the cases, tenses and genders, but who did not presume to add or remove anything from the sense or understanding of the text.

Indeed she wrote to Pope Hadrian about this matter that in the heavenly vision she had heard the following said : ‘Since what you were shown from above you do not reproduce in the Latin language of common usage, since this skill has not been given you, therefore he who has the file should not neglect to perfect it to a sound fit for human ears.’9

2. It seems appropriate at this point to insert some writings from Hildegard’s visions and show on the basis of these texts how appropriately the saying from the Song of Songs can be applied to her: ‘My beloved put his hand through the opening of the door, and I trembled to the core of my being.’10 These writings are as follows.

First vision: In the mystical vision, she says, and in the light of the love from Wisdom which never fades I heard and saw these words as follows:

Five tones of justice, sent to the human race by God, sound forth, in which the salvation and redemption of believers consists. And these five tones are more excelling than all the works of men, because all the works of men are nourished by them. These are tones whose sounds do not fade, with which all the works of man are perfected in the five senses of his body. And such is their ratio.

The first tone was perfected by the action of the faithful sacrifice of Abel, which he brought to God; the second, when Noah built the ark at God’s command; the third when Moses was given the law, the end-point of which was the circumcision of Abraham. At the fourth tone the Word of the Father on high descended into a virgin’s womb and took on flesh, because the Word had mixed earth with water and so created man; therefore all creatures have called through a man to the one who made them, and so because of man God has carried all things within himself. For God created man at one time, and at another he carried him, in order to draw to him all those whom the serpent’s counsel had caused to be lost. But the fifth tone is perfected when all error and mockery is ended, and then men will see and know that no one can act in any way against God. By this means the Old and New Testaments are perfected in five tones and the marvellous number of humanity is brought to completion. And after these five tones, the son of God will be given a shining countenance, so that he is openly recognized by all flesh. Then the godhead will act within itself for as long as it will.

Wisdom in the light of love also teaches me and orders me to tell how I was granted this visionary gift. I myself do not speak these words concerning me, rather it is true Wisdom who speaks, and this is what she says: listen, human being, to these words, and speak them not according to you but according to me. Learn from me, and speak in this way about yourself.

When in my first formation God roused me in my mother’s womb with the breath of life, he fixed this gift of visions in my soul. For, by the year 1100 after the incarnation of Christ, both the teaching of the apostles and the burning justice which God had established in Christian men and women were beginning to grow slow and inconstant.

It was in these times that I was born, and with sighs my parents dedicated me to God. And in my third year I saw such a light that my whole soul trembled; but because of my young age I could not put it in words. At the age of eight, I was offered to God for the spiritual life;11 and until I was fifteen I saw numerous visions and spoke many things about them in a simple way so that those who heard them were amazed at where they could have come from or who they were from.

Then I in turn was amazed at myself, because when I saw these things in the depths of my soul, I still had the outward use of my eyes; and I was amazed that I did not hear of such things happening to anybody else. So I concealed the vision that I had in my soul as much as I could. Of the outside world I knew very little, because I had been so frequently ill from the time of my mother’s milk until now. My body was weakened by the illness and my strength had failed.

Exhausted by all this, I asked a nurse of mine whether she could see anything else apart from external objects.

‘Nothing,’ she replied, since she could not see any of these other things.

Immediately I was gripped with a terrible fear, and I did not dare reveal the experience of these visions to anyone else.

Nevertheless, I took to predicting future events, sometimes speaking many things and sometimes having them taken down in writing. And when I was completely steeped in the vision I spoke many things that were very strange to those who were listening. But when the power of the vision had lessened, then I behaved more in the character of a child than of someone of my years; I was terribly ashamed, and often wept, and on many occasions I would much rather have kept quiet if I had been allowed to.

Because of the fear that I felt towards other people, I did not dare tell anyone actually how I saw my visions; but a certain woman of high rank to whom I had been sent for my upbringing became aware of this and revealed it to a monk that she knew.

God filled this woman with his grace like a channel of many waters, so that she gave her body no rest from vigils, fasting and other good works until she worthily ended her present life, the merits of which God has made plain with various beautiful signs. After her end I continued to see visions until the fortieth year of my life.

Then, in the same experience of a vision, I was compelled by a great pressure of pains to make known what I had seen and heard. Yet I was terribly afraid and ashamed to put into words what I had kept quiet for so long. But then my veins and marrow became filled with powers I had lacked in my childhood and youth.

I intimated these experiences to the monk who was my teacher. A reliable man of high standing in the cloistered life, he was like a pilgrim from the coarseness of behaviour of many men. Willingly he listened to my account of these marvels. He was astonished and commanded me to write them down secretly until he could see what they were and where they might be from. But thinking that they might well be from God, he intimated this to the abbot, and from then on he eagerly worked with me at writing them down.

In that same vision I understood the writings of the prophets, evangelists and other saints, and certain philosophers, although I had not had any human instruction, and I expounded some of their writings, although I hardly had any knowledge of letters, because an uneducated woman had taught me. But also I composed and sang songs with melodies in praise of God and the saints, again without any human instruction, although I had never learned neums or singing.

When these things were brought to an audience at the cathedral in Mainz and discussed there, all said that they were from God, and from prophecy, in the same manner as the prophets of old used to prophesy. Then my writings were presented to Pope Eugenius III when he was at Trier. Willingly he had them read in the presence of many, and he himself read them out. And trusting fully in the grace of God, he sent me to put into writing, more attentively than I had before, all those things that I had seen and heard.

34. Gebeno of Eberbach: The Pentachronon

During Hildegard’s lifetime the monastery of Eberbach in the Rhinegau had enjoyed good relations with Rupertsberg. In 1220, perhaps influenced by the current interest in Foachim of Fiore, Prior Gebeno of Eberbach set about compiling his Pentachronon (The Five Ages), a prophetic work based on excerpts from Hildegard’s writings. The extract he made from the following correspondence well illustrates his technique. In 1150 Conrad III (King of Germany before Barbarossa) had written to Hildegard after his elder son and heir Henry had died leaving only a six-year-old brother to succeed to the throne. As a reply, Hildegard wrote in her prophetic manner, but nevertheless sent some general personal and political advice. For his excerpt, however, Gebeno chose only the second half of Hildegard’s letter,1 thus omitting all the personal context of the original exchange of letters.

[Conrad III to Hildegard]2

Conrad, by divine grace and favour King of the Romans, to Hildegard, the maiden dedicated to God and teacher of the sisters of St Rupert in Bingen, greetings and favour.

Prevented by our regal position and shaken by various winds and storms, we are unable to visit you as we would wish. Nevertheless we have not neglected to write a letter to you, for, as we have heard, you are truly held in abundant high regard because of the sanctity of your innocent life and because of the glory of the Spirit descending upon you so marvellously. Therefore, although we lead a secular life, we hurry to you, we take our refuge in you and we humbly seek the help of your prayers and exhortations. For we live very differently from how we should.

Nevertheless you can assume that wherever we can we will certainly hasten to serve and support you and your sisters in every cause and need. Therefore I commend myself and my son, whom I wish to succeed me,3 to your prayers.

[Hildegard to Conrad III]

The One who gives life to all says this. Blessed are they who subject themselves worthily to the office of the high king. For them God has provided in his great foresight so that he does not allow them to fall from his lap. Remain there, O King, and cast away all squalor from your mind. For God preserves all who seek him purely. Hold your kingdom in the same manner and dispense justice to all your subjects, so that you do not become separated from the heavenly kingdom.

Listen! [Gebeno’s text begins here:] In a certain way you are from God. The times in which you live are light-headed like a woman. They are moving towards a hostile injustice which is trying to destroy the justice in God’s vineyard. Afterwards, worse times will come in which the true Israelites will be scourged and the Catholic throne will be shaken by error, and so their proclamations will be blasphemies like a dead body. Therefore this pain will be smoke in the vineyard of the Lord. And after these, stronger times will arise in which the justice of God will be raised up somewhat and the injustice of the spiritual people will be marked out for ejection and they will not yet be provoked to contrition. But then other times will appear, in which the riches of the Church will be dispersed, so that the spiritual people will be torn as by wolves, and they will be expelled from their places and their homeland. Therefore the first of them will cross to solitude, successively having a poor life in great contrition of heart and thus serving God in great humility. In fact, the first times will be neglectful of God’s justice, the following truly weary. Those times which come thereafter will rise somewhat to justice; but those which arise afterwards will divide both like a bear, and their riches will accumulate through evil; but those which follow will manifest the sign of a manly strength, so that all the perfumers will run to the first dawn of justice with fear, shame and wisdom; and the princes will have unanimous agreement, like a victorious man raising a standard against erring times of great error, which God will destroy and exterminate as he knows and as it pleases him.

And again he who knows all things speaks to you, O king. Hear these things, O mortal man, restrain yourself by your will and correct yourself, so that you come to those times purified, and then you will no longer be ashamed of your actions.

35. From the Canonization Protocol

In the thirteenth century, just as the need arose for Hildegard’s sanctity to be confirmed, the process of official papal recognition of a saint became more rigorous and discriminating. In this new development, the procedure for canonization was entrusted to a special commission, which arranged interviews with those who had known the saint during his or her lifetime or with those who had knowledge of miracles reported to have taken place in some way due to the saint’s influence. The canonization protocol for Hildegard herself was compiled during the pontificate of Pope Gregory IX (1227–41). The first protocol was completed in 1233 but rejected for the lack of corroborating influence, especially the lack of reliable names of interviewees or of people reported to have been cured by Hildegard’s influence. A second protocol was commissioned in 1237 and finished by 1243, but there is no evidence that it actually reached Rome; perhaps the prelates of Mainz, the diocese under which Hildegard’s monastery fell, decided to abandon the case. In the end, therefore, the case for Hildegard’s sanctity was decided unofficially by the popular devotion of local Rhineland churches, and today Hildegard features as the focus of devotion in a number of well-known locations, notably of course in Eibingen and Disibodenberg.

In the following extracts from the canonization protocol, the accompanying letter is addressed to Pope Gregory IX by the delegates of the commission, Gerbod, Walter and Arnold of Mainz. The delegates in turn cite Gregory’s letter in full before continuing with the actual findings of the commission.

From the Canonization Protocol

1. To the most holy Father, Lord Gregory, the supreme priest of the holy Roman Church, from the cathedral provost Gerbod, the dean Walter and the scholar Arnold of St Peter’s in Mainz. Our respects to you in due reverence and devotion. We received the commission from you in the following form:

2.1. ‘Bishop Gregory, the servant of the servants of God, to his well-beloved sons the cathedral provost, the dean and the scholar of St Peter’s in Mainz. We send our greetings and apostolic blessing.

2.2. ‘God, who is marvellous in his saints, confirms by the power of miracles those who sowed the seed in tears, and he shows by a series of signs that he gives eternal glory to them for their merits. Accordingly, the beloved daughters of Christ, the abbess and sisters of the monastery of Rupertsberg in the diocese of Mainz, have made the following request. Because up till now, God has caused many miracles to be performed, and intends to perform even more, through the merits of Saint Hildegard of blessed memory, the abbess of the above-mentioned monastery, and because Hildegard, who did not study any writings other than the Psalter, composed many books, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, worthy of notice to the Roman Church; and because we have heard of her praiseworthy and holy way of life while we were working in a lesser office and were sent as legates into the areas of Germany, for all these reasons we ought now to exalt her on the earth whom the lord has honoured in the heavens, by canonizing her and inscribing her name in the catalogue of the saints. And we should order her books to be brought to us and given authority by us that they might be received and read by all.

2.3. ‘A light in the darkness should not be concealed, nor a town on a mountain be hidden. Whatever God has worked through the merits of Hildegard should be brought to light because she is said to have shone with miracles so that she is held to be a saint in the above-mentioned regions. For these reasons, we are inclined to accept the requests of the aforesaid women who believe that something with such obvious proof should not be neglected. We therefore command you by these apostolic writs, that you should diligently research the truth, on our behalf, about her life, monastic calling, reputation, merits and miracles, and in general to find out all the circumstances of her life, with the help of reliable witnesses, and then to expound to us what you have found faithfully under your seals and send us the aforesaid books under seal by a reliable courier. If you cannot all be present at these inquiries, then at least two of you should be there. Date in the Lateran, 27th January, in the first year of our pontificate.’

3. With the mandate of his authority, and having travelled in person to the monastery of Saint Rupert, we received the faithful witnesses with questions on the life, behaviour, reputation, merits, signs and other circumstances of the blessed Hildegard, rejecting a good many witnesses, since no more time could be had for the great number of witnesses available.

4.1. The Abbess of Rupertsberg1 in Bingen, called Elisa, testified under oath to the miracles of the blessed Hildegard. She said that she saw how Mechthild, from the village of Lebenheim, was freed from demon possession at Hildegard’s grave. She also saw how the noblewomen Reguwize and Seguwize were freed from demons in the same manner in the actual presence of the blessed Hildegard.2 Afterwards they both served all their lives in the same monastery. She also saw several epileptics healed at the same place (as for their names, these are unknown, though God knows). Likewise people suffering from a tertian or quartan fever3 were healed by the invocation of Hildegard’s name at her tomb (their names are unknown because so much time has passed). Agnes the Prioress gave the same account under oath, as did the sister of the abbess. Also, the custodian Beatrix, Odilia the cellarer and Hedwig the lay sister claim under oath to have seen the same things.

4.2. The priest Rorich says the same under oath, but he added that when he came to exorcize the possessed woman Mechthild, and even before he had spoken to her, she called out his double name ‘Heinrich-Rorich’, which had been unknown to them in those parts before that day. He also saw four ravens sitting at that time in the windows inside the church. When he asked the demoniac Mechthild who the ravens were, she replied saying that they were the demon’s companions waiting for him to be driven out. Having said this, she opened her mouth and breathed out a cloud of black smoke. In this way, the possessed woman was freed, and at once the ravens disappeared. The more reasonable part4of the convent testify to the same under oath.

4.3. He also adds that he saw eighteen demoniacs freed by the invocation of the same virigin’s name before her tomb (their names and places of origin are not known). The priest Daniel says the same under oath, as does the provost. When, in the course of questions, the abbess was asked about the timing, she said that all these things had happened thirty years previously.

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9.1. The same [healing of demoniacs and epileptics] is told under oath by Hedwig of Alzey, and she adds that the blessed Hildegard was constantly in bed because of God’s scourge, until she was enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and then, walking through the convent, she would feel moved to sing the sequence O virga ac diadema.5 The custodian and the female cellarer agree with this under oath.

9.2. [Hedwig of Alzey] again says that she saw a burning candle on the blessed Hildegard’s grave when a mass for the dead was being sung. After it was extinguished and the reading of the Gospel was begun, the candle was found to have lighted itself again, not once, but several times.

9.3. She also saw a man (whose name is unknown) insane, bound, and possessed by a demon, and several people held him by force on top of Hildegard’s grave. But in the end he freed himself from their hands and plunged into the river Nahe, which is at the foot of the mountain. And when most of the bystanders thought that he was dead, by the invocation of the grace of this virgin he was pulled out of the river alive. He confessed that he had been freed of the demon and he said that he had been protected from the water by the sleeve of the blessed virgin Hildegard. Public opinion in Bingen agrees that this happened, as does the greater part of the convent, under oath.

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11.4. [The abbess] learned also that a certain noble lady of Trier (whose name is unknown) had gone mad through the magic of a certain young man, with the result that she was completely out of her mind. Her parents were grieving, and took refuge with the blessed Hildegard, seeking her grace. Hildegard took bread from her table, blessed it and gave it to the sick girl, who immediately tasted it and was cured. This miracle was seen by Odilia the cellarer and Hedwig the lay sister (as they swore under oath), who were both sitting at the table with the blessed Hildegard.

12.1. Likewise, when a certain man, who had been unjustly excommunicated, was buried at her monastery, and when, because of this, the Church of Mainz suspended the divine services and ordered that he be removed, she (the blessed Hildegard) made the sign of the cross over his grave with her staff so that his tomb could no longer be found.

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12.3. Likewise, when the Bishop of Mainz, called Christian, was received in Bingen with the ringing of all the bells, Hildegard understood the bells sounding in the following way. One bell rang out the words ‘Shepherd, mourn!’ while the other rang ‘Flee quickly to your salvation!’ These words seemed to be addressed to the Bishop. The third bell rang out in the voice of the Bishop: ‘I will depart and leave this land in confusion.’ She said these words to the nuns who were present when she was in the spirit. This is confirmed under oath by Prioress Agnes, custodian Odilia, Sophia and several others.

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14.1. Bruno, custodian and priest at St Peter’s in Strasbourg, speaks under oath of the life of the blessed Hildegard, according to what he has heard of her public reputation, and according to what he has read in the little book of her Life, which, when the blessed virgin died, was written immediately after her death by the two monks Gottfried and Theoderich.

14.2. He believes that this contains the truth in all aspects, namely, that she originated from noble parents, that when she was five she saw a cow and said to her nurse: ‘Look how beautiful the calf is inside the cow, all white with dark patches on his forehead, feet and back!’ The astonished nurse immediately told Hildegard’s mother of this. Her mother commanded the woman whose cow it was to show her the calf as soon as the cow gave birth. When this was all done as the blessed Hildegard had predicted, her mother realized that it was true. Her parents were amazed, and seeing that she had a different character from other people, they decided to enclose her in a monastery. When she was eight, they dedicated her as an oblate to serve the Lord in Disibodenberg under the rule of the blessed Benedict, entrusting her to a certain recluse named Jutta, the sister of the Count of Spanheim.

14.3. Concerning her monastic vocation, he says that her reputation for sanctity spread widely and very many girls of noble family streamed to her. But when the anchorage building could not contain them all, she was admonished by the Lord, and indeed compelled, to move to the Rupertsberg. How she conveyed the news to the Abbot through her confessor and how he received it badly; how she miraculously obtained permission, moved to the location shown to her by God and built a monastery there in that unfamiliar place; how she began to serve the Lord there with eighteen girls of noble family: all this is found in detail in the little book of the Life of Hildegard. In this monastery, she established fifty benefices for noble ladies, two for priests, and seven for poor women in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As well as this, she founded another monastery half a mile away across the Rhine, where she established thirty benefices.

14.4. On her reputation, he says that three popes heard of her fame and wrote to her, namely: Eugenius, Hadrian and Anastasius. The Archbishops of Mainz, Cologne, Trier and Magdeburg corresponded with her, also the Patriarch of Jerusalem, very many bishops, the holy abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, other abbots and provosts, and other prelates of churches; to all of these she sent replies. This information is taken from Hildegard’s Book of Letters.

14.5. In addition, she began, in the forty-second year of her life (although she had no earthly teacher), to write not a few books by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, which are more fully described in the introduction to her book Scivias. She wrote the book Scivias, which took eleven years to complete. She wrote the Book of Simple Medicine, the Book of Composite Medicine, the Book of the Exposition of the Gospels, the Songs of Heavenly Harmony and the Unknown Language, with its alphabet, all of which she completed in eight years, as is told more fully in the preface to the Book of Life’s Merits. Finally, she wrote the Book of Divine Works in seven years, which is revealed in greater detail in the introduction to that book.

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14.7. On signs, he says that he believes in every way that the signs which the Lord performed through her in her life (which are also written up in the book of her Life) are true, and he believes that the miracles which the Lord performed through her, both during her life and after her death, are more than human memory can hold.

14.8. On the further circumstances of her life, he says that after he had made copies of her books according to the exemplars in his monastery, namely Scivias, the Book of Life’s Merits and the Book of Divine Works, and after he had decided to make a pilgrimage to St Martin’s, he took the above-mentioned books with him to Paris. And so that he could study them more securely, he managed (with great trouble and effort) to obtain permission from the then bishop of the locality to summon a meeting of all the masters then reading lectures in theology.6 He gave to each of them twelve books,7 to be examined in the period from the octave of St Martin to the octave of Epiphany. After they had examined them, they returned them to the bishop. The latter then entrusted the books to William of Auxerre, a master of Paris at that time,8 who returned them to him confirming what the opinion of the masters was: that the words contained in them were not of human but divine origin.

14.9. On her reputation, [Bruno] says this. When his mother was in a village called Lorch, about two miles away from the monastery Hildegard had built, and when she heard from some other woman of the reputation for sanctity of the blessed Hildegard, she took her son with her in a ferry, crossed the river and begged Hildegard to place her hand of blessing upon him. Which she also did.

14.10. On the examination of the books, master Arnold, a scholar of St Peter’s, who was studying theology at the time, says the same as Bruno. William, a canon of St John’s in Mainz, agrees under oath with Bruno, apart from the account of the testing of the books and the story of Bruno’s visit to blessed Hildegard. The greater part of the monastery agrees under oath with all of Bruno’s account except for his visit to Hildegard.

14.11. Master John, a canon at Mainz, and now Provost in Bingen, agrees with the above account of the testing of the books, as he was studying theology in Paris at the time. He also says that a few people still living know better than he does about the truth of Saint Hildegard.

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