A unique figure in the history of Catholic women writers, the Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen exemplifies the twelfth-century renaissance in secular learning and spiritual living. Visionary, preacher, composer of liturgical music, correspondent of emperors and popes, and foundress of two monastic communities, Hildegard was renowned among contemporary religious sisters, male ecclesiastical superiors, and secular authorities as well as by later generations for her spiritual insights and prophetic gifts.
Hildegard was born in 1098 to a noble German family at Bermersheim, south of Mainz. According to Hildegard’s biography, her parents offered her as the youngest of ten children to God as a tithe. Jutta of Sponheim, a recluse who lived in a women’s hermitage near the male monastery on the Disibodenberg (Mount Disibod), assumed care of the eight year old and provided her with instruction in Latin. The monk Volmar, who became Hildegard’s personal friend and amanuensis, saw to her later education. Between 1112 and 1115, Hildegard professed her vows as a Benedictine nun. As Jutta’s spiritual fame grew, a religious community for women led by the recluse was established; upon Jutta’s death in 1136, Hildegard was elected head of the community.
In 1141, at the age of forty-two years and seven months, Hildegard heard a voice from heaven that directed her to record the visions she had experienced since early childhood. At first reluctant, Hildegard finally acquiesced to the bidding of the Living Light. As her writings became well known, Hildegard developed a reputation as a prophetess and healer. However, her prophetic ability did not manifest itself in predictions of the future but rather in an understanding and interpretation of contemporary events.
Around 1147 Hildegard had a visionary experience in which she was directed to found an independent convent at the Rupertsberg (Mount St. Rupert) near Bingen. Foreseeing the spiritual and material loss for his commu-