About 1000 years after Jesus there lived a family in Germany. The dad was a knight. They were not a famous family nor were they very wealthy. His family had ten children. Child number ten was a great blessing. They named her Hildegard and dedicated her to God, and when she was young, she began to experience visions. She only told her parents. They took this as a sign from God that she should live in a monastery. They carefully chose one not far from their home and when Hildegard was eight as he went to live with Jutta. The family picked Jutta because she had visions as well. They wanted Hildegard to learn how to understand her visions and didn’t want her to be mis-understood or to become too proud.
During her time with Jutta she learned how to play a ten stringed musical instrument, write down music, read, and write in Latin and German. She and Jutta were not allowed to read scripture out loud with the other monks, so during the daily church services they would meditate on scripture in their room.
Even 1000 years ago it was a big decision to be a nun. Hildegard may have been living at the monastery since she was eight, but that didn’t mean she was called by God to be a nun. She “took the veil” – meaning she stated her intention to be a nun – at age 16 and took her final vows at 18. She was wise and thoughtful. People came from all over to ask her advice. When she was 40, she was asked to be the head nun at her monastery. Still the rules were very strict. Women could not read scriptures out loud when a man was present, they could not preach, or write books about things God was teaching them. They could not sing some of the songs in the service – the same one we all sing every Sunday.
She had a series of visions and knew God wanted her to write them down so others could hear what God was saying. She refused because that was forbidden. She became ill and she wrestled with God for several weeks. Finally she asked for paper and she began to write. This upset the monk who was over her monastery. Still she wrote down her vision. Over time, she realized that he was more interested in the money that came from the nun’s families every years for their care. So she made a plan. She went to the Bishop and the Pope and asked to move the nuns from that monastery to a remote place called Bingen where they would construct a new monastery that would not be attached to a men’s monastery.
She over saw the construction new monastery. Hildegard had wonderful ideas that were unique – like fresh water that came through pipes; something that was unheard of in her time. The monastery grew and Hildegard continued to write. She wrote three books about her visions, books on herbal medicine, geological rocks, and music. She believed she was writing down the music that universe makes when it sings the glory of God. Some of her music could not be played until modern times because it was so complex. It was very different from the very solemn chants of her time.
She was asked to travel around Europe and preach and teach. She did. People questioned this but the Pope studied her writings and declared them sound and allowed her to continue. Here sermons contained calls for people to be treated well because we are all made in the image of God. She used images from the world around her to illustrate her points and helped people understand how to live Godly lives.
She died when she was 80 and was the fourth woman to be made a saint. In 2012 she was made a Doctor of the Church (Roman) by the Pope. This means that her writings have significant theological teaching which people should study. During a time when there where some powerful women who defied the roles that society put on them, Hildegard, the tenth child of a poor knight, stands shoulder to shoulder with these Queens all because she chose to listen to God.