Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Women's History Month: Hildegard of Bingen

One of the most remarkable women of the Middle Ages was Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).  She entered a monastery as a child and became one of the most influential nuns of the era.  Today she is known for her music, art, and writing.

Her play about vices and virtues, called Ordo virtutum, is one of the earliest known plays with music.  It is available on DVD, CD.  This play pits personifications of vices and virtues fighting for possession of a soul, also personified.  The only speaking role (and the only male role) is that of the Devil.

Hildegard eventually became an abbess and preached in the area now part of Germany.  Women of the Middle Ages rarely preached, and it was even more unusual for them to write about theology.  Hildegard wrote several treatises on theology.  Her book, Scivias ("Know the Ways") is a masterpiece of medieval theology, with sections on everything from the nature of the soul to the a chapter on the devil.  Her Liber vitae meritorum (Book of the Rewards of Life) expands on the concepts of sin and virtue.

It is rare for personal writings of anyone from the Middle Ages to survive, but Hildegard's letters have been preserved and translated.  Ball State University Libraries owns the two-volume set, and also makes them available online through ebooks.

Her hand-made books (manuscripts) are also known for their artwork.  Small paintings portrayed the mystic images that she had had since childhood (visions).  Although the actual painting was executed by artists, she is credited with the design.  One famous image, pictured on Anonymous 4's CD, "The Origin of Fire" (below) shows inspiration from Heaven entering into her mind.

Her musical works include long religious songs (sequences) and shorter pieces for use with psalms during monastic worship (antiphons).  They have experienced a revival and many are available on compact disc.

Because of her multi-faceted life, she is a frequent subject in interdisciplinary studies.  Scholars in music, theology, philosophy, art, history, and women's studies have all written about this important woman. To find information about her in multiple subject areas, try Ball State's MultiSearch, which searches many periodical databases (plus CardCat and WorldCat) at once.

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