Hildegard was born to parents of high nobility in the German village of Bickelheim, located on the Nahe River, a tributary of the Rhine. Hildegard’s father, Hildebert, was a knight of the Castle Bickelheim. The area had been heavily settled by Celts, and Celtic mystical beliefs strongly influenced Hildegard’s religious development.
The youngest of ten children, Hildegard was sickly as a child and was sent to an aunt, Blessed Jutta, a recluse, to be raised in a hermitage near Spanheim. Hildegard had religious visions from the earliest times she could remember. Because of this and her upbringing, she was drawn to the Catholic Church. When she was eight, her parents took her to the Benedictine cloister in Disabodenberg, where she began her religious studies. She became a nun at eighteen and advanced to prioress at age thirty-eight. Her power and influence made her one of the most important women of her time.
Hildegard was the first major German mystic and one of the greatest mystics of the Middle Ages. Her writings inspired even such influential saints as Bernard of Clairvaux. She is best known for a series of mystical illuminations, or visions, which she experienced and chronicled in mid-life and which were far in advance of the religious out-looks of her day. Her symbolic visions dealt with relations between God and humanity.
Hildegard also built a new monastery for her growing community of nuns, she corresponded with the pope and advised not only laity but also priests. She wrote numerous letters, composed hymns and sacred plays. She considered music to be the ultimate celebration of God.
In her last days, Hildegard was quite infirm, due to a long history of illnesses and to self-mortifications. She could not stand upright and had to be carried about. Nonetheless, she continued her duties with as much vigor as possible. She died peacefully with two beams of light witnessed crossing the skies over the room in which she lay. Miracles were reported after her death, and people declared her a saint.
While efforts to secure her canonization were initially unsuccessful, from the 1400’s she was listed as a saint in the Roman Martyrology. She was given an equivalent canonization in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, who also declared her a Doctor of the Church; she is the fourth female Doctor.
Bunson, Matthew and Margaret Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Second Edition.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2014.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.
Koenig-Bricker, Woodeene. “365 Saints-Your Daily Guide to the Wisdom and Wonder of Their Lives.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 1995.