Feminist Friday - Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen. That's a name you don't hear every day. But it should be heard more often. When it comes to medieval notables, she definitely makes the cut. She was a renaissance woman before that was even a thing - since she was born in the last year of the eleventh century. It’s not easy being the tenth child in medieval Germany (it was called Rhineland back then, but we won't be nitpick-y...), what with getting to be human tithing and all, you were quite simply property of the church. First born got the estate, second born got, well all the stuff if the first one died, but if you were the tenth, you got to be a monk or nun (Bride of Christ! Saweeeet!). So at age eight, her parents handed her over to a holy-hermit-soon-to-be-Abbess named Jutta. That, my friends is where it all began for our heroine Hilde.
Though I don’t envy her for having her life destiny chosen for her, she DEFINITELY made the best of a tough situation. Without children or the very strict code of conduct that was imposed on married women at the time she could do what, as it turns out, she did really well; create works of art and science. She is often recognized as one of the first known female composers. After Jutta (the German, female hermit version of Obi-Wan)went to that big nunnery in the sky, Hilde took over the reigns of the abby* and became as close as you can get to a rock star in the 12th century. She was a composer, a playwright, a music director, a scientist and herbalist, a botanist, a poet and a prophetess. Long before WebMD, there was Hildegard’s von Bingen’s compendium of scientific and medical knowledge at the time. She also composed music that was new and ground breaking for her time including a play set to music way before opera was even a musical term (strophic music be damned! Up to 20 notes per syllable! Let’s get this party started!!!)
Don’t even get me started on her visions. This lady was all up in that holy biznazzz. She consistently had and wrote about her holy visions, and taught others from them as well.
But if you remember anything about Hildegard von Bingen, I hope you remember this: she was a strong female character that used her situation to her advantage. She used her talents to help others, and became a leader in scientific study. She stuck to what she felt was right, she worked, she created, she thought, she learned and she did so for her entire life. She rebelled against the pope (smash that patriarchy, girl) and allowed a youth to be buried in her abby because she felt that, though he had been rebellious, he had done enough good to merit forgiveness and a respectful and religious burial as he requested. She defied the pope. A woman of the 12th century. She held on to her own principles and didn’t give a damn about prescribed definitions on women of the time. That is worth celebrating. Now go make some Duckweed Elixir.
*Though she is often referred to as an abbess, she was actually a magistra - a spiritual teacher
Information taken from the following articles:
"Historical Anthology of Music by Women" Ed. James R. Briscoe
" Allegorical Representation of the Synagogue in a Twelfth Century Illuminated MS of Hildegard von Bingen" Charles Singer The Jewish Quarterly Review No. 5 Vol. 3 Jan 19015