A few weeks ago we had an interview with author Sharon Bennett Connolly. This week she has launched a blog tour for her book Heroines of the Medieval World.
Medieval Archives is honored to take part in the tour and help support great medieval books!
Sharon was kind enough to provide an excerpt from her book to post on the site. The excerpt focuses on Hildegard of Bingen, a saint and mystic. St Hildegard was named Doctor of the Church in October 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Follow the link after the excerpt to visit all the blog tour stops and to buy the book! Enjoy.
Excerpt on Hildegard of Bingen from Chapter 11: Literary Heroines
There was also the rather brilliant Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was born in 1098 in Bremersheim in the Rhineland. Born into a noble family, she was the tenth child of Hildebert and Mechtild and was destined for life in a convent from an early age. She was around eight years old when she was placed with Jutta of Sponheim, a reclusive (possibly an anchorite), religious noblewoman who supervised the education of young girls from noble families. In 1112, at the age of fourteen, Hildegard, along with other girls in Jutta’s charge, took her vows at the monastery at Disibodenberg. Under Jutta, who became prioress at Disibodenberg, Hildegard was taught to read, and Latin, although she was not proficient in the latter, and in later life she relied on her secretaries to correct her Latin grammar.
Hildegard was a woman of many talents, she was a visionary, a musician, philosopher, theologian and an expert in medicine. She lived at the monastery of Disibodenberg for more than thirty years. It was in her early years there that she first experienced visions, which would make her famous even in her own lifetime. Initially, she only revealed her prophetic visions to her mentor, Jutta, and it was only when God commanded to her record them, that she revealed them to her friend and secretary, Volmar. With the permission of the Abbot of Disibodenberg, Kuno, and with the encouragement of Volmar and a fellow nun, Richardis of Stade, Hildegard started writing down her visions when she was in her forties. It was only after much encouragement from her Archbishop, Henry of Mainz, that her first work, Scivias, was published. The beautifully illustrated work was given approval from a commission set up by Pope Eugene III and was also supported by the saintly Bernard of Clairvaux.
Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux was one of a number of theologians with whom Hildegard maintained a correspondence. She regularly asked the venerable abbot for advice and guidance, and help in interpreting her visions. In one letter, she would tell him, ‘I have from earliest childhood seen great marvels which my tongue has no power to express but which the Spirit of God has taught me that I may believe … Indeed, I have no formal training at all, for I know how to read only on the most elementary level, certainly with no deep analysis. But please give me your opinion in this matter, because I am untaught and untrained in exterior material, but am only taught inwardly, in my spirit.’
Hildegard corresponded with the great personalities of her time, with emperors, popes and even queens. Sometime between 1154 and 1171, she responded to a letter from Eleanor of Aquitaine, asking for advice, with the words ‘Your mind is like a wall which is covered with clouds, and you look everywhere but have no rest. Flee this and attain stability with God and men, and God will help you in all your tribulations. May God give you his blessing and help in all your works’.
In 1148 Hildegard had a vision in which God commanded her to take her nuns and establish her own nunnery. Although Abbot Kuno was reluctant to see Hildegard leave Disibodenberg – her reputation had brought the monastery pilgrims and prestige – she eventually prevailed and established a new convent at Rupertsberg. Hildegard’s convent admitted only noblewomen, she did not believe in mixing the classes within a convent, writing that different ‘classes of people should not be mixed, or they will fall out through deceit or arrogance, and the shame occasioned by their differences. The greatest danger of all is a breakdown in peaceful manners through mutual backbiting and hatred when the upper-class pounce on the lower or when the lower is promoted above the higher.’
It was at Rupertsberg that Hildegard wrote two medical works, Causes and Cures and Physica, after studying the illnesses of the sick who she cared for. Her writings suggested remedies for different ailments, using a wide variety of plants; for example, Hildegard explains how cloves could be used to remedy against gout, swollen intestines and hiccups.4 She also extolled the virtues of the rose as a cure for many ills, saying: ‘Rose is cold, and this coldness contains moderation which is useful. In the morning, or at daybreak, pluck a rose petal and place it on your eyes. It draws out the humour and makes them clear. One with small ulcers on his body should place rose petals over them. This pulls the mucus from them. One who is inclined to wrath should take rose and less sage and pulverise them. The sage lessens the wrath, and the rose makes him happy. Rose, and half as much sage, may be cooked with fresh, melted lard, in water, and an ointment made from this. The place where a person is troubled by a cramp or paralysis should be rubbed with it, and he will be better. Rose is also good to add to potions, unguents, and all medications. If even a little rose is added, they are so much better, because of the good virtues of the rose.’
Hildegard’s prolific writing career continued in her new surroundings. She produced religious poems, music and even a play, Ordo Virtutum. She also wrote two further books of her visions, Liber vitae meritorum (Book of Life’s Merits) and Liber divinonim operum (Book of Divine Works), and a life of the abbey’s patron saint, St Rupert. Ricardis of Stade and her friend and secretary, Volmar, had accompanied Hildegard from Disibodenberg to Rupertsberg and continued to help her as secretaries and assistants. A succession of secretaries came after Volmar and Richardis, including Hildegard’s nephew, Wesclein, her brother, Hugo of Tholey, and her last secretary, Guibert of Gembloux. Guibert and an earlier secretary, Godfrey of Disibodenbrg, both wrote biographies of Hildegard. The main purpose of the secretaries was to edit Hildegard’s works as her Latin grammar was far from proficient; however, they were under strict instructions not to change any of her words as they came from God, exhorting ‘Let no man be so audacious as to add anything to this writing lest he be blotted out from the book of life’.
— End Excerpt —
Visit all the stops on the Heroines of the Medieval World blog tour:
- Annie Whitehead: About Æthelflæd
- Sarah Bryson: Heroines without a Sword, St. Margaret Queen of Scotland
- Susan Higginbotham: Scandalous Heroines: Joan, Lady of Wales
- Henry Tudor Society Guest post: All for Love, Katherine Swynford and Joan Beaufort
- Tony Riches: The Writing Desk
- Kristie Dean: Review
- Stephen Churchill: Interview with Sharon Bennett Connolly
- Lil’s Vintage World: Review
- Diana Milne: ‘Nicholaa de la Haye’ and a competition with a signed giveaway
- Sara Hanna-Black: The Heroines Who Refused to be Left Out’- Eleanor of Aquitaine & Joan of Arc
- Amy Licence: Scandalous Heroines: Joan of Kent
- Simon Turney: Review
- Sandra Alvarez: Gwenllian, the last Princess of Wales
About the Author
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years now and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle. Born in Yorkshire, she studied at University in Northampton before working in Customer Service roles at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London.
She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.
Having received a blog as a gift, History…the Interesting Bits, Sharon started researching and writing about the lesser-known stories and people from European history, the stories that have always fascinated. Quite by accident, she started focusing on medieval women. And in 2016 she was given the opportunity to write her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which was published by Amberley in September 2017. She is currently working on her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published by Amberley in late 2018.