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Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age Paperback – May 20, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

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 Hardcover edition.

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Image (May 20, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385498683
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385498685
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,470,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Amazonbombshell on January 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is the well-written, scholarly (but not too heavy) tale of the life of one courageous and troubled twelfth century Benedictine nun whom most of us have heard of but really know little about. She's the darling of a hundred modern "movements" -- everyone from feminists to religious musicians -- but she's much more -- and less -- than the typical speculations and carefully chosen facts present.
The truth is that Hildegard "von Bingen" was a woman of paradoxes: a hardline conservative Catholic who acknowledged the "weakness" of her sex yet fought for recognition in the Church; a deeply pious nun who appealed to the rule of St. Benedict and yet contradicted it when it suited her purposes; a woman dedicated to the religious life and eschewing the political, yet intricately involved in political correspondence and the shaping of policy.
Hildegard is fascinating, and Fiona Maddock's retelling of what we really know (and don't know) of her life is quite good. It goes into great detail, sometimes on tangents seemingly unrelated to Hildegard, and occasionally the writing wanders off so far that the reader becomes frustrated. Nevertheless, the book is loosely chronological, so it's not too hard to get back on track, and the writing itself is accomplished. Many of the tangents, however annoying, cast a welcome light on the customs and Church doctrine (different in many respects from today, or later ages) of Hildegard's day. Altogether, this book is intriguing and a good read, but be prepared for a few slow-downs.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By mathiais on June 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There has been more books written about Hildegard than any other medieval mover and shaker in the last few years. This book just happens to be the apex of this new found trend, as with a cool head and a sound heart the author has displayed an enormous ability at extracting truth from fiction in this informative account of her life. With splashes of descriptive writing and an elegant historical style the author sketches out the various aspects of her life, from her extraordinary visions to her bumps and bruises from fighting the established church on occasions, from her bending of the rules slightly (in regards to women not preaching) to her bouts of illness, in all this the author is able to keep her skepticism and objectivism to commendable level.
At first when picking up this book I thought (as my opinion had been soured by crusading feminism before) that this might be yet another author looking at Hildegard as a shining beacon of femininity in the twelve century and extort what only can be regarded as propaganda, but I'm glad to report that I was not only wrong but this book has left a lasting impression that will take a long time to forget. Vivid, compelling and constantly witty, I do not recommend you read this book, I demand you read it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Marc Haefele on April 29, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Respectful rather than reverent, Fiona Maddock's biography takes the measure of this remarkable woman in her time, rather than out of it. She plays down Hildegarde the Mystic, plays up her astonishing administrative, literary, political, paleoscientific and particularly musical genius. The result is as vivid and realistic a portrait as you might want to see of the medieval marvel.

As a bonus, Maddock paints a striking picture of Hildegard's historic environment--one in which women were allowed, however reluctantly, positions of intellectual respectability for probably the last time until the modern era. The writing and research are excellent.
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