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Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of her Age

Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of her Age
332 pages
Fiona Maddocks

This is a fascinating biography of a female religious leader in the 12th century. Hildegard of Bingen entered monastic life as a child, experienced visions, and eventually assumed a leadership role and founded her own abbey. She operated within a highly patriarchal society in which nuns were cloistered and lived in quiet solitude. Yet Hildegard overcame those barriers, corresponding frequently with political and religious leaders of her day, and even preaching outside the abbey for a period of time. Her writings were widely read and she was well-known for providing spiritual guidance. She is perhaps best known today for her music, having been one of the earliest female composers.

I approached this book knowing very little about Hildegard of Bingen. Her views were conservative, even reactionary; she and I would not see eye to eye. I was astounded at the way religious women were treated in those days, and at the prohibitions on manner of dress and friendships. Male clergy had much greater privilege and freedom. Yet Hildegard did not let this stand in the way of sharing her inspiration and divine messages. She enjoys a cult-like following to this day.

Not only did I learn a great deal about this historic figure, I also was constantly surprised by things I "knew," but wasn't initially conscious of. For example, while Hildegard composed music, this was done before the advent of the fixed pitch system (i.e.; a note called "C" which has an associated sound). Music also had to be committed to memory, since musical notation was in its early stages, and very few people would have been able to read it, anyway. Understanding more about the world in which Hildegard lived further enhanced this very interesting book. ( )



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 11th, 2008 10:37 am (UTC)
I never heard of this woman - so I learned something new by just reading your review (I also didn't know that the fixed pitch system was not around during this time period).

Very cool!
=) Jill
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )