Heavenly Music From Hildegard Of Bingen, A Soon-To-Be Actual Saint

An image of the Holy Spirit-inspired Hildegard and her scribe from the Rupertsberg Codex des Liber Scivias, c. 1180.

hide captionAn image of the Holy Spirit-inspired Hildegard and her scribe from the Rupertsberg Codex des Liber Scivias, c. 1180.

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Pope Benedict XIV has indicated he plans to canonize the 12th-century female composer, mystic, author, physician and abbess Hildegard von Bingen and then proclaim her a Doctor of the Church in October 2012.

Even more important than her long-delayed official canonization is the fact that Hildegard will be only the fourth woman among less than three dozen saints total to be bestowed with the title of Doctor of the Church. That designation honors men and women whose teachings and writings have been particularly significant and instructional to the church — including the likes of St. John Chrysostom, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross. (The three other women Doctors are St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Therese of Lisieux.)

Of Hildegard, Benedict said last September:

...This great woman, this "prophetess" [who] also speaks with great timeliness to us today, with her courageous ability to discern the signs of the times, her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today has been reconstructed, her love for Christ and for his Church which was suffering in that period too, wounded also in that time by the sins of both priests and lay people, and far better loved as the Body of Christ.


Though he mentions her capabilities as a composer nearly parenthetically, it would be hard to imagine that Hildegard's amazing musical works have escaped the ears of this classical-music-loving, piano-playing pontiff.

In our own time, early music lovers have become well acquainted with the marvelous compositions of this Benedictine abbess through beautiful and moving performances such as these.

Heavenly Music, From A Soon-To-Be Actual Saint

  • Plainchant sequence: 'Columba Aspexit'

    YouTube

    Perhaps no one project triggered more modern interest in Hildegard than this 1982 classic by Gothic Voices with soprano soloist Emma Kirkby — and this opening breathtaking opening selection in honor of St. Maximilian provides good reason why. Its text also gives a hint of Hildegard's profound inner world: "The dove peered in through the lattices of the windows where, before its face, a balm exuded from incandescent Maximilian. The heat of the sun burned dazzling into the gloom: whence a jewel sprang forth in the building of the temple of the purest loving heart."

  • Antiphon: 'O Virtus Sapientiae'

    Triple Spiral Productions/YouTube

    Contralto Karen Clark and violist Hank Dutt (of Kronos Quartet fame) create a haunting version of this antiphon written by Hildegard in honor of the Holy Trinity: "O strength of Wisdom who, circling, circled, enclosing all in one life-giving path, three wings you have: one soars to the heights, one distills its essence upon the earth, and the third is everywhere. Praise to you, as is fitting, O Wisdom."

  • Vesper: 'O Vis Aeternitatis'

    pirmpR/YouTube

    A beautiful version from the excellent German early-music ensemble Sequentia: "Power of Eternity, you who ordered all things in your heart, through your Word all things are created just as you willed, and your very Word calls forth flesh in the shape
    which was drawn from Adam."

  • 'Vision': Love

    YouTube

    In the apt words of one reviewer, "The four women of Anonymous 4 may be the best interpreters of [Hildegard's] music since the 12th century." For one of their Hildegard-centered projects, The Origin of Fire, this vocal quartet set several of the abbess' mystical-vision narratives into music drawn from other medieval German sources. In this passage, Hildegard contemplates divine love: "In a true vision of the spirit in a waking state, I saw the likeness of a beautiful girl shining with a splendor so bright that I could not look upon her properly."

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