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Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard of Bingen was a German nun in the 1100s. She was also an author, philosopher, musician and herbalist who wrote extensively on health care. Hildegard was born into a noble family in the region of Sponheim, Germany. In early childhood she had visions, and was presented by her family to become a nun at the age of eight. She was brought up in a small nunnery run by religious noblewomen.

She was elected ‘magistra’ or leader of her nunnery in 1136, and moved to a newly formed monastery, St Rupertsburg, at Bingen on the Rhine, in 1150. She continued to have visions and after a long period of sickness decided that God intended her to write them down and be an author. Her male convent supervisor (provost), Volmar, became her scribe and helper throughout her life.

Hildegard composed over 80 pieces of music for her nuns to sing, wrote and directed morality plays, and took a close interest in her nuns’ health. She wrote extensively about her visions, and they became famous religious works. She maintained a correspondence with popes, emperors and bishops and made four famous preaching tours throughout Germany.

Her writings included works on botany and geology, and she even invented an alphabet. She also wrote two popular books on medicine: Physica dealt with the importance of hygiene and health; Causes and Cures described Aristotelian physics and was a practical guide to herbs and medicines. Hildegard’s philosophy of health was Hippocratic and moderate. Her works could be seen as early versions of health advice books.

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Bibliography

S Flanagan, Hildegard of Bingen, 1098–1179: A Visionary Life (London: Routledge,1998)

Glossary:

Hygiene

The science of health and how to maintain it. A condition or practice which promotes good health. The definition varies widely and differs across cultures.