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Hildegard von Bingen

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(1098 – 1179)

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (German: von Bingen, Latin: Bingensis) (September 16, 1098 - September 17, 1179) was a German magistra, monastic leader, mystic, author, and composer of music.

Hildegard was born into a family of nobles in the service of the counts of Sponheim, close relatives of the Hohenstaufen emperors. Because she was a tenth child, and a sickly one from birth, and also perhaps as a political move, at the age of eight Hildegard’s parents sent her as a tithe to the church. Hildegard was put in the care of Jutta, the sister of Count Meinhard of Sponheim, just outside the Disibodenberg monastery in Germany. Jutta was enormously popular and acquired so many followers a small nunnery sprang up around her. Upon Jutta’s death in 1136 Hildegard was chosen magistra of the community, and eventually moved the group to a new monastery on the Rupertsberg at Bingen on the Rhine.

From the time she was very young, Hildegard claimed to have visions. She received a prophetic call from God five years after her election as magistra in 1141 demanding of her, “Write what you see”. At first she was hesitant about writing her visions, holding them inside. She was finally convinced to write by members of her order after falling physically ill from carrying the unspoken burden.

Recent scholarly interest in women in the church has led to a popularization of Hildegard - and particularly of her music. Approximately eighty compositions survive, which is a far larger repertoire than almost any other medieval composer. Among her better known works is the Ordo Virtutum (“Order of the Virtues” or “Play of the Virtues”), a type of early oratorio for women’s voices, with one male part - that of the Devil.

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