The Journal of Hildegard of Bingen

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1151) was the tenth child of a noble German family that lived near Mainz. In 1106, Hildegard joined the religious community led by the anchoress Jutta and housed within the male monastery of Disibodenberg under the Rule of St. Benedict. When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard (by then a Benedictine nun) was elected leader of the community of women.

In 1141, Hildegard began having visions mixed with periods of severe illness. With the support of Volmar, her priest, and Rikkarda von Stade, a sister nun, she wrote over the next ten years a book of visions entitled SCIVIAS (“to know the ways of the Lord”), including fourteen liturgical songs and a morality play set to music.

In 1148, Pope Eugenius III proclaimed the truth of the SCIVIAS, and Hildegard announced that she was building a convent for her nuns on the mountain ruins of a religious foundation established in the ninth century by St. Rupert. Despite initial opposition from the monks of Disibodenberg, Hildegard and twenty nuns moved to Rupertsberg in 1150 accompanied by Volmar, who would celebrate mass and serve as Hildegard’s secretary.

Lachman’s fictional account in the form of a journal covers the year 1152, chosen for the “unrelenting obstacles” it presented. Hildegard struggles this year with “never-ending pressure” behind her eyes (possibly migraine); with the erection of the convent buildings; and, most painfully, with the defection and later death of Rikkarda. Her account of these challenges is convincing, and the whole journal is an enormously learned education in the details and significance of the liturgy and the Church feast days. Also informative are the book’s excellent bibliography, discography, and glossary.