Hildegard von Bingen: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

By Karen Rink

If you haven’t heard of Hildegard von Bingen, you really need to learn about this amazing woman, a Catholic nun who had ideas much ahead of her time.  I first heard of her almost 20 years ago when I was learning about wild herbs and herbal medicine, and later purchased the book „The Big Health Book of Saint Hildegard von Bingen“ by Ellen Breindl, published in 2004 (written in German).  

Hildegard’s parents brought her to live in a monastery when she was approximately only 8 years old so that she could learn to become a nun.  Even as a child she had visions which were later interpreted as signs from God.  In the monastery, the nuns lived separated from the monks, they could not participate in activities together, and were considered inferior to the monks.

In the monastery she learned to read and write, studied the Bible, and participated in other cloister activities such as gardening.  She respected nature as a gift from God and learned all she could about each plant, different human illnesses, and how plants could be used as a treatment to cure different conditions.  She eventually began to treat the monks and nuns, then other patients from the local population.

She told the monks about her visions of light, and about the voices which told her to tell others about what she saw.  Because she was strong-willed, independent, had visions, and spoke with God, many young women wanted to join the monastery and learn from her.  The monks did not like that she was becoming popular, well-known, and she suffered critique.  (Today, some say that her visions may have actually been the result of migraine headaches:  https://www2.kenyon.edu/projects/margin/hildegar.htm)

Since Hildegard had her own opinions about her mission which conflicted with the monks, she, therefore, had no choice but to leave the monastery with a group of nuns and found her own successful cloister, Kloster Rupertsberg in Bingen.  Here she was able to grow in all of her areas of interest until her death.  Unfortunately the beautiful cloister was destroyed during the 30 Years War by Swedish troops:  https://www.tourenplaner-rheinland-pfalz.de/fr/point/monument/rupertsberger-gewoelbekeller/25754329/ 

Some of her many talents included:

++the composition of eclesiastical music for which she is well-known even today.

++making prophecies which you may listen to here:  We Were Warned: The Prophecies of St. Hildegard of Bingen – Bing video

++her opinions about animals.  About dogs, she said:  „Give a Man a Dog for the Health of his Soul.“

++producing wine, declaring it to be medically useful, and the nuns still produce it there to this day.  See St. Hildegard Abbey:  https://www.abtei-st-hildegard.de/english/

++believing in the balance of humanity, the world, and nature, something that is still extremely important to us all today.

Finally in 2012, Pope Benedict declared Hildegard a Saint and Doctor of the Catholic church since her writings after more than 900 years still reach the people.  

Even today her teachings persist and are popular.  The Rupertsberg Hildegard Society gives workshops where some of her original herbal remedies and food recipes are prepared in the still-existing stone cellar rooms of Hildegard’s destroyed cloister.  See video in German:  rupertsberger-hildegardgesellschaft.de/

If you don’t already know her, it could be that Hildegard von Bingen lived from 1098 to 1179, and she was truly, in so many ways, a multi-talented, visionary woman ahead of her time.

Find Hildegard’s preferred wild fruits and herbs, plus healthy recipes here:  https://www.healthyhildegard.com/category/healthy-nutrition/healthy-recipes/

German television ZDF made a film about her (in German language) in 2019:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsLFiVxvyIk

A film was also made in English; click here for rental or purchase information:

unruly mystic hildegard movie doc (theunrulymystic.com)