Best Books (and music and films) on Hildegard of Bingen
ERB Playlist #6
Compiled by Caitlin Michelle Desjardins
This is the sixth in an on-going series of “playlists,” in which we recommend books around a particular theme.
“Making a mixtape (or playlist) is the opposite of indifferent. It’s heartfelt, purposeful — often a subtle form of flirtation. … [The playlist] is a way of making yourself known, an interpersonal form of show business, of making news, of replicating sounds and words you find important. It’s like poetry, because poetry is what you can’t say in any other way.”
– David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything
(Our 2009 Book of the Year. Read our Review…)
*** A Recent essay by ERB editor Chris Smith on a theology of the playlist…
[ Previous Playlist – #5 Favorite Madeleine L’Engle Books ]
*** Watch for more ERB playlists in the coming weeks and months…
We have just passed through a seminal year for women, monastics, mystics and healers with the canonization of Hildegard von Bingen, followed by her being named a Doctor of the Church—one of only three women to hold that distinction. Hildegard, for me, has always been, first, a fascinating story and figure and, secondly, an inspiration for writing and all kinds of singing. Below are some of the works by or about Hildegard that have been most formative and delightful for me as I’ve explored her life and legacy.
|Hildegard of Bingen: A Visionary Life
by Sabina Flanagan
The life and work of Hildegard von Bingen is carefully told and explored in this accessible, though not always light, biography by Sabina Flanagan. Maps and pictures provide some context and the first chapter alone, “Life and Death”, highlights just how magnificent this woman was. Her different works and roles are explored in depth, and the book includes the English translations of texts to some of her most famous music. The poetry itself is glorious.
|Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World
Barbara Newman, Editor
The name Barbara Newman arises again and again as one does even cursory research into Hildegard. This is an edited collection of essays exploring Hildegard’s varied roles. Even the table of contents is awe-inspiring, as each chapter explores another aspect of her life and work: Abbess, Religious Thinker, Prophet and Reformer, Correspondent, Artist, Medical Writer, Composer and Dramatist and, finally, Poet. This is a fascinating book for exploring the many facets of Hildegard’s calling and work.
|Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine
Incorporating the whole range of Hildegard’s writings (scienticis, poetic, theological), Newman analyzes the feminine motifs that Hildegard employs. This was one of the first books about Hildegard in English, and includes Newman’s own translations of Latin texts and an extensive Bibliography. As a theological study this book delves deeply into Hildegard’s theological images and thoughts, but is also remarkably readable and fascinating. Perhaps a must for any feminist-leaning theologian who wants to explore an early comrade and what a “theology of the feminine” might look like, then and now.
|Hildegard of Bingen: Homilies on the Gospels
Translated with Introduction and Notes by Beverly Mayne Kienzle
The very fact that Hildegard, as a woman, preached and her homilies were so regarded as to be recorded makes this book fascinating. This is the first English translation of Hildegard’s Latin homilies, which she likely spoke in the chapter house of the Abbey—though she is known to have preached against abuses in the Church quite publicly later in life. These homilies are helpful in understanding the heart and vision of Hildegard’s theology. Themes resonate from her Scivias, including salvation history and the struggles of virtues over vice. This edition includes the texts she was commenting on and a thorough introduction to help the reader feel well grounded in Hildegard’s world.
|Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias
Trans. By Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop, with an introduction by Barbara Newman
I return to the Scivias again and again. These are the most well-known and loved visions of Hildegard, the book that she felt called to write in a vision and became her life’s work, in a way. Reading them I always feel my imagination enriched with beautiful images of the divine, the church and allegorical and meaningful understandings of salvation history. This is the critical edition, which is long but very rewarding. I find myself often using it as a sort of reference, reading chapter by chapter. A recent, smaller edition in a new translation was published by New City Press called Woman Mystic: Selections from Saint Hildegard of Bingen’s SCIVIASby Elizabeth Ruth Obbard. This would be an excellent introduction to the Scivias.
|The Journal of Hildegard of Bingen: A Novel
by Barbara Lachman
Barbara Lachman has written a detailed, intimate study of one liturgical year in Hildegard’s life. Through it we watch as Hildegard struggles to establish the first autonomous women’s convent, recieves and considers new visions and new music and works to heal the sick that come to Rupertsburg. Lachman’s novel is rich with many historical footnotes that, while occasionally a bit distracting from the narrative, really help to ground the reader in the liturgical year and life that Hildegard lived. The novel is impeccably researched and includes a timeline of Hildegard’s life and Lachman’s own translation of the Ursula Songs that Hildegard composed.
There are too many recordings for me to possibly list here. I’ll list those I own and find myself returning to again and again. Hildegard’s music is my go-to background music for devotional time, planning contemplative worship and is often my evening soundtrack as I slow down and prepare for rest (though her music is by no means always gentle!) Here are a few of my favorite recordings:
- Emma Kirkby, and Christopher Page. A Feather on the Breath of God: Sequences and Hymns. London: Hyperion, 1986.
- Benjamin Bagby, and Barbara Thornton. O Jerusalem. [Germany]: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 1997.
- Cologne Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music, Canticles of Ecstasy. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 2010.
- Anonymous 4, Hildegard von Bingen:11,000 Virgins – Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 1997.
Vision – From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen, a film by Margareth Von Trotta.
This film is so visually beautifully, it’s hard to tear your eyes away. In German with English subtitles, Vision is a portrait of Hildegard that focuses on her struggle against the male-dominated church and her relationship with Richardis von Stade. The films focuses mostly on the small, personal dramas of life in the Abbey and Hildegard’s own relationships. At time the director seems a bit absorbed in the drama of relationships, but overall the film provides a compelling picture of Hildegard of Bingen’s life and is a must-see for anyone interested in this remarkable Doctor and Saint.
Caitlin Michelle Desjardins is a student in Theology at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She became particularly interested in women monastics after spending a summer among the Sisters of Grandchamp, in Switzerland.