The Ladies Guide to History: Hildegard of Bingen


Hildegard was a woman who did everything she never was supposed to do and made no apologies for it. She was an abbess, although never officially given the title, composer, prophet, scientist, preacher, author and so many other things. Hildegard came to my attention in music history class when listening to the music of the Medieval Period. Imagine my surprise when a piece of music  played turned out to be beautiful and was written by a woman. This was indeed rare as any other student of music history can attest. Even after a few years this woman still had my interest so I decided to read a biographies about her. 

About Hildegard 

Hildegard’s life in many ways is unknown to us, but it is generally accepted that she entered religious life at the age of 8 when she entered the monastery with her mentor Jutta. Hildegard, fascinatingly enough, did not do most of the work that she will be remembered for till she reached middle age. Therefore not much is known about her before she became known for her visions. She had denied her visions earlier in her life thinking that they would be seen as something horrifying rather than a gift from God.  So she kept silent about them until she couldn’t anymore. Researchers have proposed that her visions might have been side effects from migraines. She wrote several books that detailed the content of her visions for the consumption of others. Personally what I love about Hildegard is that she was not afraid to speak her mind. She decided that she needed to leave the original monastery that she had entered and so she did, despite the disagreements from the monks. It was illegal for women to preach but she did that too. She wrote letters of advice and criticism to monarchs (Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine as well as others)  and church officials. Not only was Hildegard a writer and a religious visionary, she was also a scientist who collected information on the effectiveness of plants for the treatment of various different ailments and some are still used today in homeopathic cures. Hildegard composed beautiful music although, there is some doubt that she was actually the composer. She may have also been an artist, and may have drawn the illuminations on the illustrated versions of her books. She was definitely a woman of many many talents.

My Thoughts on Fiona Maddocks’ Book

Overall, I did enjoy this book just not as much as I thought I was going to. This may have been because I wanted to see Hildegard as something that she wasn’t but it may have been because I thought the book was much to short. The author had a tough job of incorporating all of the different interests and talents of Hildegard especially because different people love different aspects about her. As a musician I was incredibly interested in her music and therefore felt like she had not covered that subject enough but anyone who studies religion would probably be more interested her books that contained her visions and people interested in women studies and feminism would want to see Hildegard’s views of women in detail. In order to keep the book relatively concise the author had to cut some things. I was especially disappointed in the chapter that was supposedly about her music. There was hardly anything on the music itself rather it was more a debate on whether or not she actually wrote it. Which was disappointing to me, as I was looking forward to hearing about her innovations in the musical field. I was also constantly being interested by a sentence and then finding out that the sentence was all that the author was going to say on that subject. It felt like the author did not have much passion in her subject. All in all I think that I will have to read another book on Hildegard in order to satisfy my curiosity about her.
Overall, I gave this book 3/5 stars

What women do you admire?

Previous Ladies Guide Posts:

The Ladies Guide to History: Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

The Ladies Guide to History: Marian Anderson

The Ladies Guide to History: Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir 

Introducing The Ladies Guide to History

Relevant Links:

Hildegard of Bingen by Fiona Maddocks


7 thoughts on “The Ladies Guide to History: Hildegard of Bingen

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