Among Catholic saints, the 12th-century German abbess Hildegard of Bingen perhaps best fits the description of wild womanhood offered by Cole Porter's "The Lady Is a Tramp." That is, Hildegard did it all, she did it her way, and everyone who hears about her is amazed. Such is a fair summary of the evidence offered in Hildegard of Bingen
, a biography by Fiona Maddocks (the chief music critic for London's The Observer
). Hildegard is today best known for her haunting musical compositions. She was also, in Maddocks's description, "a polymath: a visionary, a theologian, a preacher; an early scientist and physician; a prodigious letter writer who numbered emperors and popes among her correspondents ... Her boldness, courage, and tenacity made her at once enthralling and haughty, intrepid, and irksome." This is a straightforward, chronologically organized biography, beginning with Hildegard's girlhood (she entered a male monastery when she was 8 years old) and ending with the story of her canonization and a contemporary account of the procession that occurs annually on her feast day in Eibingen, the site of the second convent she founded. Throughout, Maddocks reminds readers of the rich historical background of Hildegard's life (the Crusades, the rise of monasticism, the beginnings of the Renaissance), offering not only an account of one extraordinary woman but of an era whose influence on our own is still being felt. --Michael Joseph Gross
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Of all the Western mystics being recovered today by spiritual seekers, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) occupies first place. Over the last decade, almost all of her extant writings have been translated and published or reprinted. In addition, no fewer than six biographical studies of her life have been released. Maddocks, chief music critic of the Observer (London), adeptly shows why Hildegard continues to fascinate seekers, chronicling the saint's life from the time she entered the cloister at Disibodenberg, at the age of eight, to her eventual canonization. From her 40th year until her death, Hildegard experienced prophetic and apocalyptic visions, 26 of which comprise her most famous work, Scivias (to know the way of the Lord), written over a period of 10 years. Her uncompromising spiritual judgment (she challenged both religious and political leaders of her time), her unceasing desire to follow the spiritual paths God revealed to her and her deep devotion to the life of the cloister attracted numerous followers. Hildegard was a Renaissance woman in the Middle Ages; she composed hymns, poems, a morality play, two major theological works (in addition to Scivias), hundreds of letters and two scientific and medical treatises that are sometimes remarkably modern in their descriptions of the causes and prevention of illnesses. Maddocks weaves excerpts from all these writings into the biographical narrative so that, despite plodding and workmanlike prose, the saint of Bingen comes alive for the modern world.
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