Tiny Saint, Mighty Woman

by Desirae Sifuentes

Celebrating St. Hildegard's Life and Works

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Wiping the sweat from her brow, an exhausted Abbess Hildegard von Bingen finally laid down her shovel and nodded to her “daughters,” the Sisters of Rupertsberg, to do the same. At 79 years old, the frail but firm abbess and her daughters had spent half a day tilling every inch of their churchyard in anticipation for the storm that was forming on the horizon.

But, this was no ordinary storm approaching the Abbey. The prelates of the archbishop of Mainz were on the way to claim the body of a young excommunicated monk named Maximus, who had been buried in the consecrated grounds of Mount St. Rupert. The monk had fled to the Abbess and her sisters after unspeakable acts had been inflicted against him by his former brother monks. Despite their efforts to heal him, Maximus died in the arms of St. Hildegard, under her hospice care after being reconciled with the Lord before her very eyes. 

The prelates had demanded St. Hildegard dig up and cast out the man's remains, unconvinced of her testimony that he had been absolved before his death. The good Christian woman refused, and furthermore, she and her sisters turned up every inch of their churchyard and chiseled away the markings from every single gravestone, totally obscuring where he had been laid, lest his body be disinterred without her knowledge. Mount St. Rupert was placed under interdict--an incredibly cruel affliction for the artistic soul imbued into the Abbess--for their refusal to cooperate. However, this act of the sisters would solidify the impossibility of desecrating the body of young Maximus, while at the same time seal the interdict. 

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To say St. Hildegard of Bingen was a Renaissance woman is an understatement (and she lived before the Renaissance).

One of four female Doctors of the Church and the earliest to walk this planet of them all, St. Hildegard’s story took me by surprise. Mystic, poet, abbess, artist, author, composer, pharmacist, preacher, theologian; she was the first woman ever permitted by the Pope to teach, and she  wasn’t afraid to reproach neither the Pope nor kings… it seems like an impossibly tall order for a woman who lived in the 1100s. Yet, the juggernaut abbess embodied all of it.

Her visions began when she was only three, and by eight she was unwillingly sent away to the Monastery of St. Disibodenberg, where Blessed Jutta properly educated her. Ten years later, she became a Benedictine nun at the monastery. Under the orders of her confessor, she began to write down her visions, and after another ten years her work Liber Scivias was born. Read by Pope Eugene III in 1147, it was he who urged her to continue writing. She wrote many books, poems, and songs over her lifetime, and created mesmerizing and technically incredible works of art to accompany her visions. Words cannot do justice to all that she created; you simply must read her works and view her paintings for there to be any justice to how remarkable her works are. 

In an era of “girl power” and “smashing the patriarchy,” St. Hildegard is a role model embodying true female empowerment, and how to walk the line between proper obedience and refusing to resign to injustice (something, dare I say, only a woman can do).

St. Hildegard was successful in her fight for Maximus. She argued correctly that the man should remain where he was interred, and produced witnesses to his absolution for the archbishop to prove he wasn’t apostate upon his death. Maximas’ body remained in hallowed ground, and the interdiction beset upon the abbey was lifted a year before her death. 

If you are, like I am, utterly enamored with St. Hildegard, then you’ll be thrilled to learn her Tiny Saint is dropping April 22! Snag her for your keys, backpack, purse, church bag, faith formation pencil case, or wherever you love to stick your Tiny Saints.

St. Hildegard von Bingen, Doctor of the Church, pray for us!

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