Since 2014, we’ve been working on compiling information about Hildegard von Bingen and her remarkable life. Our initial motivation came from a genuine interest in Hildegard’s midlife awakening, and the notion that a purpose-driven life can begin at 40 – assuming we’re prepared to listen to our inner voice. But over the years we’ve come to discover that Saint Hildegard offers so much more.
Hildegard von Bingen’s Remarkable Contributions
As we continue to learn about Hildegard von Bingen we never cease to be delighted with new and interesting discoveries. Hildegard has long been recognized as a meaningful religious and historical figure, but it wasn’t until 2012 that her contributions to spirituality and medicine resulted in her canonization as a Saint and doctor of the Church.
Through our exploration of Hildegard’s life and accomplishments we’ve discovered and documented here many remarkable things we didn’t know about Hidlegard. So we decided to categorize many of them into the 20 things you may not know about Hildegard von Bingen.
20 Remarkable Things You May Not Know about Hildegard von Bingen
1. Hildegard was one of the most important composers of the Medieval Period.
Hildegard von Bingen considered music the point where heaven and earth meet. She believed harmony to be more than the combination of voices and instruments, for her it represented the balance of body and soul, the interconnectivity of man with the universe. There is much more to know about Hildegard music — we have managed to compile a comprehensive introduction to Hildegard of Bingen music with help from a foremost expert on Hildegard music, Dr. Barbara Stuehlmeyer.
2. Hildegard von Bingen Writings were visionary and ahead of her time.
Hildegard von Bingen’s historical impact results as much from her unique thinking as it does from her role in diligently recording the culmination of beliefs and practices over centuries of human experience. Part of Hildegard’s lasting impact is due to her vast output and vigorous dedication to work. In Hildegard’s first and perhaps most famous theological work, Scivias she documents her visions and prophecies. Her subsequent tomes, Physica and Causae et Curae memorialize her healing methods.
Her Book of Life’s Merits contains one of the earliest descriptions of Purgatory. We’ve also assembled a list of the most prominent of Hildegard of Bingen’s writings.
3. Hildegard von Bingen medicine remains prominent in Germany today.
Hildegard’s background in healing was as a function of her duties as a nun (and eventual Abbess). Hildegard of Bingen medicine and the medicine of her time was practiced within the confines of the monastic community. Today, this practice is known as monastic medicine, or klosterheilkunde in German, which in recent years has been gaining recognition within the scientific community. Like most medieval medical treatments, Hildegard’s natural healing techniques were rooted in the first principles of scripture and the Order of St. Benedict.
4. Hildegard’s emphasis on grains may not have been focused on spelt.
Many consider an inseparable relationship between Hildegard and spelt. Despite popular contemporary thinking around Hildegard and spelt, Hildegard’s writings do not focus on specific spelt recipes, but rather on the general beneficial attributes of spelt as a healthy plant. In Physica, and perhaps other soundbites on spelt we’ve collected, Hildegard recognizes the value of spelt as a perfect grain, though most of her favorable commentary is reserved for wheat and rye. Given how much grains have changed over the last 900 years due to genetic modifications, perhaps Drs Hertzka and Strehlow were right to propose the use of ancient dinkel grain for the gluten effects in spelt and for overall intestinal health.
5. Hildegard von Bingen’s mysticism promotes a oneness with nature.
Hildegard’s spirituality is rooted within the doctrine and theology of the Catholic Church, where in 2012, she was canonized as a Saint and recognized as a Doctor of the Church – one of only 36 people (and, only 4 women) to be named Doctor, over the entire history of the Church. Hildegard of Bingen is also recognized as a visionary and a mystic. Her mysticism is so widely appreciated that Michael Conti named his movie Hildegard, The Unruly Mystic and Matthew Fox’s Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality dedicates a portion of its curriculum to the study of Hildegard’s mysticism and her appreciation of nature through the divine feminine. Terry Degler wrote a wonderful piece illustrating how Hildegard’s spiritual awakening is like that of a Kundalini awakening process.
6. Hildegard documented the midlife awakening that inspired Carl Jung.
Our relationship with Hildegard started by learning of her personal spiritual evolution, what we call her midlife transition. We happily discovered that Hildegard of Bingen was transformational, embracing a new life and spiritual path in her early forties, resulting in the most prolific and creative period of her life that continued into her early eighties. We consider Hildegard’s midlife awakening among her most valuable contributions, reminding us that we have the power to change these lives we’ve led, to find our bliss. Carl Jung later referenced Hildegard in his research on the individuation process, documented meticulously by Avis Clendenen in her book, Experiencing Hildegard.
7. Hildegard inspires to us embrace our gifts despite potential risk.
Even a biography of Hildegard of Bingen is an inspiring body of work. Through the process of learning about her life, we have discovered that Hildegard of Bingen was transformational. At a time when little was expected of women, and particularly within the confines of a church governed through patriarchal rule, Hildegard demonstrated a new way of thinking and living. Today, Hildegard is recognized as a Saint, and one of a handful of Doctors of the Church. Critics have pointed to parts of Hildegard’s generally accepted biography as overly romantic to satisfy hagiography. Even without consideration for whether she was in fact tithed to the Church as a child or if she served in seclusion as an anchorite, the lasting effect of Hildegard’s many works and writings speak to her tremendous influence.
8. Hildegard von Bingen’s medieval garden reflects a healthy body.
Dr. Victoria Sweet marvels at Hildegard’s view of all aspects in nature as elements of a garden. Throughout her work, Hildegard emphasizes the greenness of things, specifically the viriditas and healing of elements in harmony. We have Hildegard to thank for discovering many of the healing plants to include in a proper Hildegarden and how her teachings can be the model for a successful medieval garden.
9. Hildegard von Bingen proposed basic nutrition in a medieval diet popular today.
At its core, the basic premise of Hildegard’s healing harmony derives from balance and prevention. Hildegard would have us believe that we maintain health by enforcing some personal discipline and routine on matters such as diet, see cold weather foods. Hildegard advocated for a basic nutritional treatment founded in ancient tradition, such as breaking bread. Today, we continue to benefit from the same principals found in a medieval diet inspired by Hildegard. The modern slow food movement follows Hildegard’s food medicine, all of which ultimately relies on common sense, the same type of basic wisdom that would have us take a walk after dinner.
10. Hildegard’s Viriditas reflects the power of nature in each of us.
Among Hildegard’s most recognizable contributions is her theory of Viriditas. For Hildegard, viriditas encapsulated the divine feminine force and the greening power of nature. As one might find in observing plant life, Hildegard believed the unifying power of the divine shows itself in the form of growth. In addition to physical health found through viriditas, we can also achieve mindfulness through viriditas. Like a form of dynamic meditation, we commune through our interconnectivity with nature. Dr. Nancy Fiero, a noted pianist and author of the book Hildegard of Bingen and her Vision of the Feminine wrote a poem she calls the Viriditas Prayer.
11. Hildegard fasting was intended as a prescription for living in moderation.
In her Fatherland of Germany, Hildegard is primarily known for her contributions to holistic health and wellness, as the founder of alternative medicine. Those devoted to Hildegard nutrition often commit to some form of periodic fasting regime. Much like the affiliation of spelt to Hildegard, there is some dispute about Hildegard’s actual endorsement of fasting, however there is little dispute over the importance of intestinal health in Hildegard medicine. We believe fasting corresponds closely to Hildegard’s belief in routine, discipline, and discretio. Hildegard’s guide to fasting and health advocates for moderate fasting guidelines to renew and preserve good health. In Germany, Hildegard is known for three discrete healthy fasts, whereas in the US, Hildegard’s regimen is normally considered a spiritual fast from antiquity.
12. Hildegard closely observed and documented human ailments and remedies.
As implied by our name, Healthy Hildegard is largely dedicated to recognizing ailments documented by Hildegard, and finding suitable Hildegard-inspired remedies. For easy reference, we’ve aggregated Hildegard’s 11 best natural remedies. There are several well-known treatments, within the context of Hildegard cures, such as the Wormwood cure, Parsley wine, holistic allergy remedies, 3 natural cold remedies and the Duckweed elixir. Ultimately, Hildegard believed our health depends on nature and our environment, so her remedies often align with seasonal changes. Consider herbal cold remedies in winter, the autumn Duckweed drink, the Spring Cleanse and even the Spring Soul Cleanse.
13. Hildegard’s Ordo Virtutum is considered the first morality play and opera.
Hildegard’s Ordo Virtutum deserves its own special category apart from Hildegard’s writings, broadly. In addition to Scivias, Ordo Virtutum represents Hildegard’s acceptance of her own voice and visions, marking the point of her midlife awakening. See our translation text of Ordo Virtutum to read the voice of Anima tell the story of our soul, along with the guiding support of our subconscious virtues. In the original performance of Ordo, Hildegard played the queen of all virtues, Humility. We have had the pleasure of watching modern performances of Ordo Virtutum, including the San Francisco Renaissance Voices, and Tim Slover’s Pulitzer prize nominated play, Virtue.
14. Many of Hildegard’s healing herbs have been adopted by Commission E.
Hildegard of Bingen medicine is based on the concept of finding our cues in nature. Whether through the divine healing power of viriditas, or our meditations in nature, the natural world provides the remedies for our lives. Healthy Hildegard is largely based on rediscovering the healing herbs that Hildegard described in Physica and Causae et Curae. We have attempted to distill some of the more complex findings that continue to persevere in klosterheilkunde, including Hildegard’s 7 healing plants, herbal high blood pressure home remedies, and Hildegard’s 9 herbs for painful menses. For practical purposes, we also include 6 ways to preserve fresh herbs. Like Hildegard, we hope to achieve improved healing harmony through plants and herbs.
15. Hildegard’s healing spices help incorporate natural herbs in our daily routine.
As with healing herbs, Hildegard’s healing spices are a way to incorporate Hildegard nutritional therapy into our daily lives. Among the most important of Hildegards 13 healing spices we’ve found compelling reference to Bertram or pellitory, galangal (often confused for ginger), and Thyme benefits. Hildegard’s guide to fasting and health encourages the use of these herbs to preserve and maintain energy levels. Finally, Hildegard would also likely advocate for the use of one of these 24 bitter spices, which were mainstays of monastic medicine in her time.
16. Hildegard’s belief in interconnectivity underscores our balance with nature.
When we think about interconnectivity we think of being a part of something larger than ourselves, a relationship through the joy of giving to a greater collective purpose, a cosmic womb of the divine feminine. Hildegard’s Scivias proposes a model of the universe resembling an egg; she wrote of the microcosm and the macrocosm as a means to exemplify the spiritual and physical interconnectivity of man and the universe. Fittingly, through Hildegard’s work, we’ve come to understand that the easiest way to achieve interconnectivity comes through our relationship with nature. Thus we think Hildegard would approve of finding mindful meditation in God’s cathedral of nature.
17. Hildegard’s creativity represents both an expression and form of prayer.
Hildegard’s beliefs in the power of creativity comfort us by reminding us that life’s greatest forces are found in our ever-expanding universe of creativity. When we explore the outer limits of our creative power we bring to life the divine feminine within each of us. According to Hildegard, life’s greening force of results from the creative power of viriditas. These core beliefs contribute to Hildegard’s legacy as the Patron Saint of Creativity. We think of Hildegard having first revealed her creative power in her performance of Ordo Virtutum. This milestone event, as Teri Degler puts it in her piece describing Hildegard as a kundalini, represents a meaningful point of overcoming fear and personal risk to embark on a spiritual transformation.
18. Hildegard’s 4 bodily juices corresponds with seasons, directions and elements.
There has been much written about Hildegard’s (and her predecessor’s) belief in humorism and humoral medicine. Though a believer in this ancient form of treatment, Hildegard had a small twist insofar as she viewed the bodily humors as four bodily juices. According to Hildegard the Earth is composed of four primary elements and was given to man by God. In her book, Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky, Dr. Victoria Sweet discusses the 4 elements as earth, fire, air, and water. According to Hildegard we find balance among the four elements where Fire strengthens, Earth provides life force, Air supports flexibility, and Water moisturizes and nourishes.
19. Hildegard’s Discretio at the core of our mandate to manage our own condition.
Hildegard’s concept of discretio is consistent with our understanding of discretion. We refer back to discretio for various reasons throughout this site. From our Comments on a Hildegard Fast to Hildegard’s nutritional treatment, to Vindication for Breaking Bread, and of course Hildegard of Bingen medicine, discretion plays an important part in how we manage the routine of our daily lives. It is interesting that as far back as the middle ages Hildegard places much of the onus and responsibility of a healthy and productive life on our ability to manage ourselves.
20. Hildegard liked bitter flavors to balance appetite and promote digestion.
Hildegard’s concepts behind bitter tasting foods and bitters closely resembles the theory of bodily humors and elements. We experience five unique flavor profiles: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami (savory). Our nutrition fails with the persistent absence of bitterness. Our western diet internationally avoids bitter flavors in favor of more appealing flavors. However, knowing what foods are bitter and how to incorporate those into our diet can greatly improve our intestinal health, reduce excessive appetite, and encourage a more diverse and nutritious bounty of foods into our diets. Here are 17 bitter foods that you can start enjoying today.