Hildegard’s music a big hit in Europe
Medieval nun propelled from obscurity

By Lois Lindstrom

SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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STOCKHOLM — A medieval German nun who is the world's first known female composer has risen from a millennium of obscurity to celebrity status.

Sales of her music on more than two dozen compact discs are out­selling other spiritual albums in many stores throughout Europe.

Interest in Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), a Benedictine abbess, composer, writer and holistic healer, has grown significantly during the past decade. Her liturgical music is being performed in churches throughout Europe; her books are being reprinted. Scores of new books about her life and her visions have been filling European bookshelves and now number close to 1,000 titles.

Governments, too, have discovered Hildegard. The German government issued a Hildegard stamp in 1979 on the 800th anniversary of her death. And German commemorative coins are often sold out.

She's particularly popular now, said Catholic Bishop Hubertus Brandenberg of Stockholm, because 1998 is the Jubilee Year of her birth. Hildegard was born in 1098, but because there isn't an exact recorded date of her birth, the whole year is used for commemorations, especially in her native Germany. Her feast day in Germany and Sweden is Sept. 17, and this year the pope sent an ambassador to the annual Mass for her in Germany.

Hundreds of symposiums, lectures, concerts and museum exhibits throughout Northern Europe this year attest to the interest in this charismatic abbess.

Born into a noble German family, Hildegard entered a cloistered life at age 8 and began seeing burning visions then and throughout her life. In 1150, she founded a convent at Rupertsberg near Bingen, Germany, and later founded another convent at Eibingen, near the Rhine.

She wrote more than 300 letters in Latin to popes, priests and oth­ers whom she met. She also wrote three major books on religious themes and penned several books on holistic medicine for women when she wasn't traveling and preaching.

In Stockholm, her passion play, Ordo Virtutum (Germany's first opera), and a symposium were staged in early September. Both events were sold out, according to Stockholm Cultural Center producer Monica Jacobson DiKanski.

Hildegard's passion play presents the struggle of a soul tempted by the devil but rescued by a choir of virtues, until it finally attains salvation.

Despite Hildegard's feast days and reported powers of prophecy, she has not been canonized. Pope Gregory IX opened proceedings to canonize her in 1233, but the process was never concluded. In a book written about Hildegard by American Barbara Newman, her research showed that technical difficulties arose because the inquisitors did their work shoddily and failed to record names, dates and places in their accounts of her miracles.

   

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