St. Hildegard of Bingen: 12th Century Healer & Visionary

July 20, 2021


Vision is a German film that chronicles the life of the 12th century Christian mystic St. Hildegard von Bingen. The film begins with her early childhood and covers all of the known major events of her adult life. It is subtitled but moves at a readable pace.

St. Hildegard von Bingen was not only a visionary. She was also a gifted healer, a painter, religious leader, poet, and composer. One of the things I especially liked about Vision was the beautiful sound track based on St. Hildegard's own compositions. I was less impressed with emphasis on the saints personal relationships.  

Not that I doubt that she had them or suffered at times with them, as do we all.  But, to me, she is so much more than that. 

St. Hildegard's Visions


According to multiple sources, including Barbara Newman, author of Voice of the Living Light: St. Hildegard of Bingen and Her World, St. Hildegard experienced (and recorded) a series mystical visions that she had been having since childhood.  These writings describe a brilliant light pouring down from heaven, which the saint referred to as "the living light."

Because angels appeared to St. Hildegard in her visions, she gave a lot of thought to the relationship between angels and man. The saint foresaw an apocalyptic future giving way to a new heaven and a new earth as described in the book of Revelation. 

Direct translations of St. Hildegard's visions may be found in Hildegard von Bingen's Mystical Visions which I have not read. But hope to read soon.

St. Hildegard attributed most of her accomplishments (including her incredibly beautiful musical compositions) to her visionary experience. But she remained modest throughout her life, giving all glory and honor to God as shown in the following letter to another religious leader:

A wind blew from a high mountain and, as it passed over ornamented castles and towers, it put into motion a small feather which had no ability of its own to fly but received its movement entirely from the wind. Surely the almighty God arranged this to show what the Divine could achieve through a creature that had no hope of achieving anything by itself.  ~ St. Hildegard's letter to Abbot Philip


St. Hildegard and Holistic Wellness


St. Hildegard believed in a strong connection between body and soul and regarded physical disturbance as a sign of a deeper imbalance.  Her pharmacopoeia, The Physica (Hildegard von Bingen's Physica: The Complete English Translation of Her Classic Work on Health and Healing) discusses the specific medicinal qualities of plants, elements, living creatures and metals. 

The Physica does mention the use of crystals which (as an ex new ager) I do not recommend. It is worth noting, however, that St. Hildegard seemed to be attempting to utilize the mineral (rather than the magical) qualities of the stones. In many instances she placed the recommended stones directly against the skin or asked the patient to hold them in their mouth.

To me, fact that the Physica must be read critically (like all historical medical treatises) doesn't detract from its value. As one of the three female doctors of the Catholic Church, St. Hildegard's medical and visionary writings may be taken seriously.

St. Hildegard's Legacy


Assuming a leadership position throughout her life, St. Hildegard served as magistra of the sisterhood at Disibodenberg and went on to found her own convent at Rupertberg in the face of great opposition. She was the author of the Physica three books of visions, numerous musical works and what many consider to be the first morality play.

Canonized after her death, St. Hildegard's progressive and holistic approach to the treatment of illness was far ahead of its time and an inspiration to anyone with an interest in holistic wellness.  

Her many visions are thought provoking and well recorded.  

Her delicate and haunting liturgical melodies speak directly to the heart. To me, their survival over these last 800 years is a remarkable testimony. I listen to them often.  To me, they are more effective then any new age or Eastern meditation.

One of the things I love about St. Hildegard is that she reminds us our Catholic faith IS all encompassing.  Thanks to St. Hildegard and other saints we are the recipients of both a rich mystical tradition and an approach to wellness that is well worth exploring.


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