I learned about Hildegard when I was studying the ancient herb, lavender. Hildegard of Bingen wrote about lavender in the 12th century in her book – “Causes and Cures.” Hildegard died on September 17, 1179 at the age of 81 years. Today is the 831st anniversary of her death.
Sometimes I mention Hildegard when I am speaking at bookstores, nurseries and cooking demonstrations. Many people have never heard about her. However there is nearly always at least one person in the audience who knows about her amazing life.
Hildegard was born in the summer of 1098 to a noble family in Germany. At that time, the custom was that if you were fortunate enough to have ten children, you were to give your 10th child to the church as a tithe. Hildegard’s parents waited until she was 8 years old to put her in the care of a young woman who was a hermit (an anchoress) associated with a Benedictine monastery. Hildegard lived a life devoted to God.
Her accomplishments are impressive. At a time when women were not taught to read or write, Hildegard was extraordinary. She was a physician, abbess, prophet, theologian, writer and composer.
When I read about Hildegard’s life, I identified some lessons to put to use in my life.
- Hildegard was a life-long learner. At 76 years of age, she completed “The Book of Divine Love”. In all, she wrote 9 books.
- Faith was a keystone of Hildegard’s life. She shows the importance of commitment and devotion. Her monastic life was one of prayer and meditation.
- Hildegard confronted and overcame her fear of her visionary power. At just 3 years of age, Hildegard could see things that others could not. She hid her visionary power for years. When she was told to “Cry Out and Tell What is Shown to You”, she still hid. Only after becoming ill did she begin to write and talk with close friends about what she saw. She regained her health. Eventually, she obtained permission from the Pope to continue to express her thoughts. In 1147, the pope read from “Scivias”, Hildegard’s first book.
- She appreciated the beauty in the world. Music, plants, language, art, prayer and friends gave Hildegard joy. She celebrated these precious gifts. Hildegard wrote some 70 musical compositions and another 70 works of poetry.
- Hildegard was courageous. The 12th century was a time of dramatic political and theological upheaval. Hildegard challenged emperors, kings and other powerful people to act in accordance with God’s laws.
- Hildegard celebrated lavender. Writing about lavender, Hildegard said the herb gives “pure knowledge and a pure spirit.” Hildegard advises her readers to drink wine mixed with lavender, lukewarm to “allay the pains of the liver and the lungs.”
- Targeting her audience, Hildegard chose to write in Latin. Latin was the language used by intellectuals, clergy and political leaders. By deciding to write in Latin, Hildegard made sure her works would be read by powerful people.