Thursday, 23 July 2009

Research trip to Bingen, Germany

I just returned from Rhinehessen where I was tracing the path of medieval powerfrau Hildegard von Bingen, the subject of my current novel-in-progress.

Here are some pictures.

Hildegard was born of a noble family in the village of Bermersheim near Alzey. Nothing remains of her family home, but here is the view of the village church:

At the age of eight, according to most sources, her parents offered her, their tenth child, as a tithe to the Church. Hildegard was sent to the remote monastery of Disibodenberg where she was enclosed in an anchorage with Jutta von Sponheim, a noblewoman only seven years older than herself. Here are pictures of what they think are the ruins of the Frauenklause, or the women's anchorage:

Following Jutta's premature death, thought to be caused in part by her extreme aceticism, Hildegard was elected Magistra of her small community of nuns. In sharp contrast to Jutta, Hildegard advocated a lifestyle based on healthy moderation as opposed to constant fasting and mortification of the flesh. She began work on her magnum opus, Scivias, before taking the radical step to break free of the monks of Disibodenberg and establish her own abbey at Rupertsberg on the Rhine. Nothing remains of Rupertsberg Abbey today but it stood just off to the left side of this picture:

After initial hardships, Hildegard's abbey at Rupertsberg flourished and here she wrote on subjects as diverse as medicine, natural science, and human sexuality; healed with herbs and gemstones; corresponded with religious and secular leaders who sought her advice; and composed an entire body of sacred music. Her visions were immortalized in brilliant illuminations.

She eventually founded a daughter abbey at Eibingen, across the Rhine, just above Ruedesheim. Though the original abbey no longer remains, the new Abbey of St. Hildegard, built in 1904, is home to a community of Benedictine nuns who continue Hildegard's work. They also grow and sell excellent wine which you can taste in their giftshop. Hildegard believed that wine was very wholesome!

Here is a panoramic view of the abbey taken from the opposite bank of the Rhine:

What Hildegard achieved in her lifetime was unprecedented for a 12th century woman. Although Saint Paul forbade women to preach, Hildegard went on several preaching tours and was not afraid of locking horns with emperors or popes. She had to pay a steep price for her independence of mind. She and her nuns were the subject of an interdict, or collective excommunication, which was lifted only shortly before her death. She died, as she had lived, seeing visions of the world beyond this one.