As I am reading more and more in Medieval and Renaissance history, I continue to have my pre-conceived ideas overturned. I am still reading (and re-reading) Thomas Cahill’s “Mysteries of the Middle Ages” (2006). I have been fascinated with some characters who just are not talked about much in popular knowledge of the Medieval World. Like Hildegard, for example. This German lady was born in 1098 at the very beginning of a true blossoming of culture, science, and the arts.
She entered a monastery at the age of eight, but certainly was not sheltered. As she matured and later became the abbess of a convent, she became a composer and musician, a writer of a musical play (some say it was the world’s first opera), a writer of some 400 letters to the notables of her day, an author of several volumes of scientific natural history, a reformer against the religious corruption of her day, AND an itinerant evangelist who preached in Roman Catholic churches in the Holy Roman Empire! (I’m almost worn out just listing her accomplishments, and I still haven’t listed them all!)
Although I would probably not agree with some of her theological conclusions, the people of her day (like the venerable Bernard of Clairvaux) so enjoyed her books about her visions and insight that he sent the material to Pope Eugene III, who then gave his blessing. As I study her life, I simply cannot find any woman who compares with her in the Islamic or Chinese or Hindu cultures of that time period. It is amazing to me that there was this much freedom and admiration for this lady at that time. Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised….
Hildegard died on September 17th, 1179. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and officially made a “Doctor of the Church” (along with such luminaries as Augustine and Aquinas). Fascinating life. I think I’ll just keep on reading about these surprising people from 1000 years ago.