Hildegard of Bingen has become one of the most "popular" of medieval saints over the last few decades, and the 900th anniversary of her birth was celebrated in grand fashion in 1998. An Internet search can turn up dozens and dozens of sites dedicated to her life, writing, images, and music, some academic and many more not.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in approaching Hildegard's life and work is avoiding the temptation to read backwards in time, reading her in relation to the important movements of female piety (religiöse Frauenbewegung) and Rhineland mysticism which came after her. (You'll understand the problem if you look at Rebecca Garber's page on medieval German women writers, linked below.)

Remember that Hildegard was a contemporary of Bernard of Clairvaux and that she was a female monastic, living a traditional Benedictine cloistered life. Like Bernard, she had access to learned Christian traditions--less than a male monastic but more than the average lay person. As a female, she was subject to a different set of expectations and much more stringent rules of claustration than were males, but, like Bernard, she reached out of the cloister on numerous occasions to engage with the world outside. Certainly we can look at Hildegard's relationship to God and Bernard's relationship to God, Hildegard's writing and Bernard's writing in the context of gendered expectations and opportunities. But it might be most fruitful to think of Hildegard the visionary first in the context of monastic spirituality rather than in the context of later distinctively female spirituality. By considering Hildegard first in the context of monastic culture generally, the significance of her femaleness may come more clearly to light.

Some Hildegard links:

For a general introduction to Hildegard on the web with links to some of her music click here.

Rebecca Garber places Hildegard in the context of medieval German women writers in a collection of biographies at ORB.

Other Bibliography: There is an enormous bibliography on Hildegard of Bingen -- just try a search on the Feminae Index and you'll be amazed at the variety of work being done on her. Two Hildegard collections you might want to explore include: Maud Burnett McInerney, ed., Hildegard of Bingen: A book of Essays (Garland Publishing, 1998) and Barbara Newman, ed., Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World (University of California Press, 1998).

There are some good essays on female and male monasticism in a recent work edited by Sharon Farmer and Barbara Rosenwein, Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Religion in Medieval Society. Essays in Honor of Lester K. Little (Cornell University Press, 2000). See also Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100 (Chicago, 1998).