Who is Saint Hildegard?

Hildegard of Bingen lived in the 12th century in Germany, in the Rhenan region.  Born in 1098 and born to Heaven on the 17th of September 1179, her life evolved in a troubled century: in Europe, the emperor of the Holy Empire and the papacy fought for supremacy in the political realm, while many bishops and abbots were more concerned with power and money  than with the salvation of their flock.  It was the period of the Crusades and the bloody repression of heresies.

All her life, Hildegard suffered greatly and was often confined to her bed; however, this never prevented her from accomplishing work that was remarkable as well as considerable.  At approximately 17, she took on the veil in the abbey of (Mount) Disibodenberg where she will be elected abbess at the age of 38.  She founded and directed two other monasteries (Rupertsberg and Eibingen).  When advanced in years, braving fatigue and difficulties, she undertook four voyages in order to preach to religious communities and to the laity, admonishing and exhorting each and everyone to convert, which was an exceptional action for that time.

Hildegard of Bingen was also a visionary in the proper meaning of the term; she wrote about this permanent gift : «During my primary constitution, as God was breathing His life into me in my mother’s womb, He imprinted this vision in my soul.»  It was given to her to see and hear, right to the end of her life, a throng of things that were neither perceived by her bodily eyes or ears : «I see them rather in my soul, while my eyes are open, such that I am never taken into ecstasy, and I thus perceive these things while awake, be it day or night.»

Hildegard began to record these visions in latin in her forty-fourth year; she recorded them principally in three works: the Scivias («Know the ways of God»), the Liber Vitae Meritorum (“Book on the Merits of Life”) and the Liber Divinorum Operum («Book of Divine Works»), on man and the world.  She generally transcribed these visions in many letters, in musical works and in chants, in minor works and mostly in a treatise on medicine.

We do not have the original copy of this treatise yet two parts have made their way to us via manuscripts from the 13th and 15th centuries.  One of these is known today under the title of Causae et Curae («On the origins and treatment of illnesses»), the other as Physica («Book of the subtleties of divine creatures»).  The latter describes the healing properties of some 500 plants, trees, land animals, birds, fish and minerals.

Some may be surprised by the thought that Hildebrand of Bingen could have had visions (given by God) of practical recommendations for the sustenance and the health of the body, thinking that God is not interested in our petty earthly problems.  However, He told us that not one hair of our head would fall without Him knowing about it.  Upon reading the Gospel, one realizes that Jesus-Christ, the Son of God, took flesh so that He could come to announce the Good News of salvation, of the Redemption that He brought us by His death on the cross, and that He also healed countless sick people, chased away demons and conferred upon his apostles and their successors this same power.

In all of her works, Hildegard calls to mind the history of the salvation of humanity, in heaven and on earth.  One of the visionary chants is dedicated  to “Maria, mater sanctae medicinae”, to Mary, Mother of the holy remedy, which in fact is the Eucharist.  This main idea is carried throughout the entire works of Hildegard :“Divine mercy is without boundaries, it is infinite. However, man is free to shut himself from God” (Scivias).

Hildegard of Bingen has never been solemnly proclaimed a saint.  But John Paul II has written about her and now Benedict XVI calls her one of the patrons of Germany.  In one chapel of the Basilica of Lisieux, she is hailed as the holy patron of Germany.

It is interesting to learn that Hildegard had received the gift of healing from the Lord.  After her death, the bishop of Mayence came to her tomb in person in order to forbid her from continuing to perform any more miracles and she obeyed.  Miracles stopped until the last century when another bishop of Mayence gave her the permission to heal once more.

Main source: L’épeautre gourmand: les meilleures recettes de la cuisine hildegardienne, éditions Résiac.