Book Review by Dr. Christine Cameron. Hildegard of Bingen:A Poetic Journey

AFFIRMING REVIEW        by     Dr Christine Cameron

Hildegard’s life sings and dances across the pages of this engaging harmony of her works, set out in this poetic journey that commences at the twilight of her life and then rewinds back through the lens of time. There is the separation from family to “entombment” in an anchorage with Jutta and another; words that then envelop the reader in frigid emotions of isolation and confinement – words that explore the lack of warmth amidst sanctity and penance! Nevertheless, an inner glow returns with the descriptive analysis of freedom becoming a reality, when there is a re-emergence into the light and life of the monastery – its interior and exterior – its undulating fields and its healing life-giving plants.

While engaged on the journey the foremost characters are given personalities that leap lifelike from the pages – Jutta is a living saint who projects perfection; the personality clash with the Head Abbot Kuno simmers and grows; the bond between Hildegard and her sisters is as a mother with her daughters; Hildegard’s incredible friendship with the ever faithful Volmar and her undying but questionable love for the young Richardis when there was a need to treat all equally – demonstrate a logical progression of words and ideas leading to a climax. As magistra – teacher Hildegard’s awareness of the confinement of the monastery leads her to respond to the “divine call” for change and meeting the challenges she creates new foundations with her group of nuns. 

A mystical writer, a visionary, a healer, a scientist, a writer of plays, a musician – what a woman! In this Poetic Journey Hildegard’s genius is explored with cadences and rhythms that flow from verse to verse and page to page. There is the illness that plagues her through her long life which ends in pain and sanctified silence but is expertly shown by the writer that Hildegard’s life has really only just begun for as a saint and Doctor of the Universal Church her life is immortalised in the annals of the Church. The many gifts of Hildegard – including her charisma – are expertly embedded in this “Poetic Journey” that gives voice to the “Living Voice”. A very enjoyable and fascinating read!

Dr Christine Cameron – 15 March 2019.

Christine is a seasonal lecturer with the Australian Catholic University. She has served as Principal and in administrative positions in Catholic primary schools in NSW Australia. Christine’s books are based on her successful PhD research into Women Doctors of the Catholic Church: A Study in servant Leadership.

Her first book Leadership as a Call to Service (2012)  explores the then three female Doctors.  Her second book, on the The Life and Works of Hildegard of Bingen  (2013) shows her a regarded scholar of Hildegard and 12th century  mystical writings, as she 

“seamlessly weaves the golden thread of SERVANT LEADERSHIP through the life and works of St. Hildegard

 

Hildegard of Bingen Named one of the Most Loved Composers

Classic 100: Composers most loved of all time. 

 

Our ABC   classical radio, a few months ago, put out a call for  listeners to vote for their most loved Composer.  Well you know Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Handel  will be there as Vivaldi and Elgar and Chopin will be there too.

Of course  I voted for Hildegard as my No. 1 and Mahler as my 2nd most loved composer . We waited a few months for the tally and over last weekend  – a National Holiday Weekend in Australia,  we prepared to hang around house cooking, gardening, reading knitting , to listen to magnificent music as we counted down from 100. 

Many of the great names fell  all day Saturday. Their gorgeous music came lifted us and left.  Composers fell away  . . . Grieg, Ravel, Haydn, Wagner, Bizet  and  it took another sleep .

On Sunday with the count 40 and down . . . Hildegard arrived at 33. There was an eruption of excitement. There was cheering all around our apartment. . . friends were texting me and we popped the champagne ( a bit later) To think the people have taken her ecstatic, heavenly music to their hearts.

You can still hear it all on www.abc.net.au/classic – 100

To think her music was silenced by the hierarchy for nearly a year, the year before she died and now today, 900 years later she is listened to and loved by people all over the world and today in the ABC Classical Countdown of the top 100 most loved Composers of all time  Hildegard rates 33rd  and one of the few woman. 

It is extraordinary that the voice of Hildegard has returned at this time of history with her music, her health and healing , her understanding of the environment and her call for  our need to be stewards and custodians of our Mother Earth for she is our life line.  

For me Hildegard is a woman who sees through hypocrisy  and cannot abide with the patriarchy of church or state .  She acts as if she is doesn’t see it.  She acts on  her intuition and what her inner voice tells her. To do this of course she had to listen  and listen and listen.

Listen  to the heart beat of the earth and the thrum of the tree and the wind and the messages that are with us constantly in nature and in our very being.

My story of her life written in poetic verse is with the publishers Ginninderra Press and will be launched in a few months.  

And hence I am thrilled  to see  Hildegard of Bingen named 

and for all the world ,

well  for all of Australia,

(at least but I know my daughter in England was jumping up and down with joy and some Hildegardeans in America and a few in Germany were filled with joy )

to stop and listen to her exquisite music today.

 

Stop Press; Hildegard is journeying well.

 

tulip bud in Liz garden

The birth of my new book Hildegard of Bingen: A Poetic Journey  like this  fresh bud moist with morning dew is being birthed.

 

It was exciting to receive the manuscript from Ginninderra Press for my first read and edit.

Stephen and Brenda Matthews, from Ginninderra Press have worked very sensitively with my  manuscript, that was accepted by them last year for publication.

Every step has its mix of excitement and challenge.

Now for the decisions about cover and blurb.

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Hildegard receiving  one of her visions .

 

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This photo is taken in the ruins of Disibodenberg where Hildegard lived for nearly 40 years, firstly in an anchorage which opened up to become a convent  as more girls and women even widows asked to come and live.  Michael took this photo of me sitting in the area which is thought to have been Hildegard’s Kapelle.

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Some of the items from Bingen that helped to inspire me on my writing journey.

Last Swallows: A Poetic Journey

For Hildegard, health and healing sought balance in all aspects of life. She honoured interconnectivity – of spirit, mind, body; of humanity, the earth and the universe. This is the heart of Hildegard’s healing philosophy, though not unique to her. Buddha emphasised the middle way as the path of moderation and the path of wisdom. The Tao always reminds us to move towards finding the balance as with dark and light.

What would eventually set her apart, however, was how she chose to embrace the middle ground set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict. This enabled her to engage in her individual passion while serving the stringent institutionalism of the Church.

It was within this middle ground that she pressed her will and intellect into the interconnectivity of the physical and spiritual worlds, culminating in her foundational work in natural medicine.

From her early years Hildegard worked with  garden plants and herbs for healing. This can be seen in the following poem when Jutta is dying. ( from Book 111 of Hildegard of Bingen: A Poetic Journey)    

 

 

 

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Some of the books of the 21st century I have that are inspired by Hildegard of Bingen

 

 

 Last Swallows  

Hildegard’s world stands bleak, 
bare.    The last swallows long gone.
In cold light 
dew drops hang on a blade of grass.
Lingering dread 
knots her stomach.

She enters the anchorage 
sighs deeply,
lights Advent’s second candle.
Its smoky glow 
reveals the pale beauty of Jutta’s face,
she lies stilled. 
Hildegard puts down some bowls, 
kisses her forehead.

 Jutta, my mother,
your ascetics are too harsh.
Your imprisoned cell here 
is mortification enough.

Let our spirits give praise 
with rhythm of music,
with song of jubilation.
Our God, the Just One, is she who offers life 
with all its bountiful gifts.

She nurtures Jutta, 
urges with sips of fennel tea,  
warmed broth, mulled honeyed wine. 
Oil from the olives, freshly pressed, 
she heats over the smouldering hearth,
gently massages Jutta’s hands and feet.
Her flesh wasted.
Jutta has her mind only  
on heaven, 
to be remembered as a saint. 
Hildegard kneels beside her
holds her cold hands,
listens to her trailing breath.
She loves this broken woman.

 

Colleen Keating

from Hildegard of Bingen : A Poetic Journey

 

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Later Hildegard came to understand everything is given us
for our wellbeing. She would write later about the interconnection of all things.
There is no creation that does not have a radiance, 
be it greenness or seed, blossom or beauty, 
it could not be creation without it.  Hildegard of Bingen

In 1150, Hildegard left the Monastery at Disibodenberg and led her sisters to set up the new Abbey at Rupertsberg. There she embarked on deep and valuable work in lifestyle, nutrition, and well being for her sisters. Word spread around the  of her healing ways.

When Hildegard left the Monastery at Disibodenberg and led her sisters to set up the new Abbey at Rupertsberg in 1150 she embarked on deep and valuable work in lifestyle, nutrition, and well being for her sisters. And word spread around the Rhineland of her healing ways.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, declared “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be they food.” The concept of food as medicine is ancient. Hildegard was one of the first in Mediaeval Western civilisation that connected health and nutrition. 

Food as medicine is the core for Hildegard of Bingen. Her notion that a kitchen is also a pharmacy reflects a common theme among ancient traditions of healing: food is the first medicine. Medicines at the time were all plant based or specific combinations of foods prescribed according to their unique healing qualities.

Hildegard’s original work, was eventually split into two treatises, Physica  and   Causae et Curae –

“Physica” represents the history of natural remedies, which Hildegard had intended for public use. and in Causae et Curae Hildegard describes healing and treatment methods using humoral techniques along with traditional creation teachings, combined with ancient mystic Cosmologies.

 

 

 

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The wonderful selections of breads at breakfast, in our Bingen Hotel overlooking the Rhine. It felt very much as if hildegard is present.

 

 

Today especially in Germany, Hildegard’s healing treatments have found a resurgence in holistic health and wellness.

Within this renaissance Hildegard’s philosophies around health and nutrition provide concrete ways to achieve a healthy spirit, mind, and body, which ultimately lead to a healthy lifestyle. From this healthy lifestyle we harvest many benefits, not the least of which is avoiding illness and unnecessary suffering.

Expansion to Eibingen: A Poetic Journey

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From my writing desk, in Bingen, looking down the Rhine

 

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At Bingen, looking down the Rhine.

 

Expansion  to Eibingen  

Hildegard’s fingers tap restlessly 
on the refectory table. 
A new plan consumes her mind.
She moves to the podium
tucks back some loose strands of grey hair,
smoothes her veil
waits for her sisters to end supper.

She looks around.
A hundred sisters sit close in lines
share their own produce, 
freshly baked spelt bread,
honey, warmed grape wine. 
Hildegard breathes the aroma 
of the delicious broth, 
a recipe she has created 
for their health. 

Her mind holds a bold horizon
as the shape of Rupertsberg
grows its silhouette into the sky.
Its soul is their singing, her music.  

Hildegard inspires their hearts 
again with the bravery of St Ursula.
Her voice lowers,

My gaze is drawn across the Rhine
to the hamlets and people of Eibingen.
To a destroyed, abandoned convent.
How the local people beckon 
for our sisters.

Chatter buzzes, hums
like a hive of  Odelia’s bees.
Excitement palpable.

They imagine the old buildings 
brought to life again 
by their efforts.

On the first Sunday of Lent

Hildegard crosses the busy Rhine 
with thirty volunteer sisters 
to found a new convent 
amongst the people of Eibingen.

Sister Inez,  chosen the new Magistra. 
The monk Volmar comes to bless them.
Carpenters and stone masons
follow, enthusiastic about a new project.

On the return journey,
the smell of the river captivates Hildegard.
Undeterred by the rough swell,
she turns to Volmar,
We will visit twice a week
to encourage and support them

The buildings and spires of Ruperstsberg
from the  perspective of the Rhine
catch warm rays of a sun, deep in their hearts.

 

 

 

Schwester Raphaela (l) und Schwester Maria Magdalena von der Abtei St. Hildegard bei Rüdesheim (Rheingau) lesen am Mittwoch (30.09.2009) Spätburgundertrauben im Weinberg. Das Kloster bewirtschaft 6,5 Hektar Rebfläche, die zu 83 Prozent mit Riesling und zu 17 Prozent mit Spätburgunder bepflanzt ist. Die geschichtlichen Wurzeln des Klosterweingutes reichen bis ins Mittelalter zurück, in die Zeit der Gründeräbtissin dieses Klosters, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). Schon damals betrieben die Schwestern Weinbau. Foto: Arne Dedert dpa/lhe +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Abtei St. Hildegard bei Rüdesheim (Rheingau) 2009  ( in 12th century situated at Eibingen

Touch of Silk: A Poetic Journey

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A happy photo of a Benedictine sister picking the grapes at  the  Eibingen Abbey.

This poem in Hildegard’s poetic journey  Touch of Silk is a transitional moment when she is inspired to showcase her sisters, singing, and her music, with her sisters dressing in beautiful gowns and flowers. It is a fact many of the women were quite wealthy and did bring jewellery maybe as part of a dowry,which they used to adorn themselves on special feast days. One must remember the 12 th century was a moment of Renaissance. Many frowned on her actions but it was still able to be done. In less then 100 years this would not be allowed.

 

Touch of Silk

There must have been a moment
when the idea arose.
Maybe it was the visions
when holy virtues spoke to her.

Maybe when all fifty sisters spent time
laughing together as they picked grapes,
for the winepress,
to make the sacramental altar wine,
and their sweet wine
to give warmth and strengthen blood,
as Hildegard says.

Maybe it was the day
the cousins Bertrude and Agnes
from a noble family joined her sisters,
proudly announcing they were seamstresses,
and donating reams of silk
for priestly albs and vestments.

Just maybe, the touch of the silk
gave Hildegard the idea.

Excitement drives her thoughts and words,
as she muses and then reflects out loud,
My sisters will wear silk gowns
as they sing our opera.
We will have it ready to perform
for the Bishop and his entourage
at the consecration of our new Church.

After Matins,
Hildegard gathers her sisters,
My sisters, God loves beauty.
For our concert we will dress,
as noble regal souls.
We will wear silk gowns that flow.
Gold wreaths and flower-circlets will crown us.
Let our hair loose under light translucent veils.
Our hair is our glory,
not a temptation to cut or hide.

Feverish as excited children
the sisters sing and sew
and with every practice
Hildegard watches their confidence grow.

Below is some special mementos I brought home from Bingen.
The wines I shared with Michael were special and my Hildegard candle energises me and the whole room while I write.

wine from Abbey

Hildegard’s wines from Eibingen

Epiphany: A Poetic Journey

 

 

 

 

tulip bud in Liz garden

Tulip bud by Elizabeth Keating -Jones

 

 

Epiphany

 

In the garden, Hildegard sings
of the soft hills
curved as a mother’s breast,
The earth is at the same time mother,
She is mother of all that is natural,
mother of all that is human.
She is the mother of all,
for contained in her
are the seeds of all.

 

She sings of trees and plants
ferns, herbs, flowers and stones.

 

The greening power of God’s love
surges through her
palpable holiness
surging with vitality.

 

Hildegard learns
names of the plants, herbs
their healing properties.
The sisters’ garden explodes
a paint box come to life
spilling across a landscape.

 

Richardis follows her
discerns culinary and medicinal plants
bubbles intensely,
alive with the world.

Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor
 Photo taken by Elizabeth Keating-Jones in her spring back-yard garden, which we began while visiting in the past autumn.

Viriditas: Poetic Journey

 

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This is one of my reflective times in Hildegard’s Kapelle at the ruins of her
Disibodenberg Monastery in Germany where Hildegard
lived for the first 38 years of her Religious life. And the snowbells are a first of spring moment of viriditas taken by my daughter Elizabeth Keating-Jones in Sussex England.
Disibodenberg nurtured Hildegard. She listened to the vitality of the greeness and alivemenss of her world. She made the word “Viriditas” and heard the Spirit whisper to her but still young and fearful as a woman she clams shut. Even though this suppressing her thoughts and feelings made her sick many times, she still not know how to go forward.

Viriditas  A word coined and made famous by Hildegard. The word combines the essence of truth and green, meaning vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure and growth.  Hildegard  uses it metaphorically as vitality. She sees it in the moist fresh greens..In her writings viriditas means the ‘greening power of God’

Hildegard was one of the first to speak of nutrition being linked to wellbeing.
She saw food as medicine.  And as we will read as my story of Hildegard unfolds
she cares for her sisters well being.

 

Viriditas

After the rains
Hildegard tends the garden
knee deep
in wet grass,
up to her elbows in soil,
worms, snails
and ruff of leaf compost.

Marvels at the ramble
of a pumpkin vine,
a stray seed gone free.
Lingers in the fragrance
of chives and basil,
coriander, lavender and mint,
and the smell of parsley.

Savours their bouquet.
Being jubilant
with the flirt of white moths,
and the canticle of bird song
from an oak branch above.
Dwells on her knees
as if in prayer.

Hildegard stands
her hands on her lower back
stretches and arches
skywards. wisping clouds
ruffle and the  Light whispers,

I am the breeze that nurtures all things green
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits
I am the rain coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh
with the joy of life. 

Fearful of her own mystery
she clams shut this light
into the tight knot of her gut.

 

Hildegard’s Highest rated foods
Spelt, chestnuts, fennel and chickpeas (garbanzo beans).

“Spelt creates healthy body, good blood and a happy outlook on life,” – Hildegard

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A website healthyhildegard.com is an excellent resource. Thank you to the creators of it . It is an inspiration.
Other resources that focus on Hildegard and health
Dr. Wighard Strenhlow, Hildegard of Bingen:Spiritual Remedies, Healing Art Press 2002
Dr. Wighard Strenhlow, & Dr. Gottfried Hertzka, Hildegard of Bingen’s Medicine, Bear & Co. 1988.
Jany Fournier-Rosset, From Saint Hildegard’s Kitchen Foods of Health, Foods of Joy, Liguori Publ. 2010.
Victoria Sweet, God’s Hotel, A Doctor, A Hospial, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. Riverhead Books 2012

Unearthing Heaven in Music: Poetic Journey

 

 

 

 

“Hildegard’s music is not easy. It is demanding with the breath…there are even a couple of songs that have two and a half octave ranges, which is extreme for music. In our day, we don’t even have most music like that.” ~ Linn Maxwell on Saint Hildegard’s music

This poem is set in Hildegard of Bingen’s new Abbey at Rupertsberg near the town of Bingen at the junction of the Nahr River and the Rhine in 1151. It is before her new Church is completed and before her sisters sing in flowing silk robes their Opera Ordo Virtutum  written by Hildegard (believed to be the first opera written by a woman in History. This poem is an extract from my up and coming writing on Hildegard of Bingen: A Poet Journey

 

 

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                                                          Unearthing Heaven in Music
Unearthing Heaven in Music

Seamless fold of seasons
Not so seamless, human endeavour.
Life is still comfortless,
harsh, rough.

Hildegard is invigorated
by harmonies of sound,
sees music in the dawn,
dance of light on the hills,
in the caress of the wind,
shape of the clouds
sound of the entwining rivers,
the patter of rain
chatter of verdant tendrils of vine.

Music sings in her mind
fills her writing
defines her day.

In giving voice to her poetry
Hildegard bursts into song.
Words of Divine Light,
sounds from the heavenly spheres,
O fleeting soul, be strong.
Clothe yourself in the armour of light.
You are surrounded
with the embrace of divine mysteries.

She sees creation, a symphony
of joy and jubilation,
a great chorus
of the cosmos itself.
She sings with her sisters.
Her sisters sing with her.
Singing softens their tired
discouraged hearts
like blossoms soften stone walls.
In the garden with her sisters around her
she draws lines with a stick on the earth
dots out the shift of sounds,
and with the stick as a baton and pointer
she teaches them her new music.
Their eyes shine.
Her antiphons and canticles
enrich the Divine Office.
Richardis leads, her voice ethereal,
the sister join, words and rhythms soar,
breathless notes, thin higher and higher.

The unfinished church
embraces their song,
a new heaven and new earth.

 

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