A Woman to Know: Hildegarde of Bingen

We cannot live in a world that is not our own, that is interpreted by others. — Hildegarde

(an illuminated page depicting Hildegarde as she receives a vision, image via Wikimedia Commons)


There's this great story about Hildegarde.

She was a 12th century feminist nun — later a feminist ~abbess~ — who composed music, advocated for greater scientific inquiry, encouraged her nuns to drink beer, researched holistic medicine (she was right about a lot of it!) and wrote eloquently about a series of mystical visions she claimed came from God Himself. She also experimented with getting high on nutmeg and documented its mind-altering powers for other visionaries.

But the great story is about this one time when Hildegarde agreed to have a revolutionary secretly buried in her Rhineland abbey. When soldiers arrived to dig up the body and deny the dead rebel a proper entombment, Hildegarde considered this an unpardonable sin. So she invited the soldiers into her abbey, poured them full boots of beer and then, as they laughed around the table, she snuck outside to the cemetery with a band of renegade nuns. Under cover of darkness, they dug up all headstones in the graveyard.

"Go ahead," she told the soldiers the next morning. "Now tell me which body you'll remove."

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