Hildegard of Bingen at St. Mark’s, Berkeley

Quia ergo femina mortem instruxit, clara virgo illam interemit,” (For since a woman drew up death, a virgin gleaming dashed it down) began the introit. With these words on January 31, worshippers at St. Mark’s in Berkeley were transported back to the 12th century through the music of Hildegard of Bingen, performed by Vajra Voices. Sponsored by the Episcopal Chaplaincy to UC Berkeley, it was a stirring conclusion to an exploration of the work of one of Christianity’s most fascinating female figures. 

Hildegard was one of the most fascinating women of her time. She was an artist, musician, spiritual writer, and advocate for reform in the Catholic Church. Hildegard was born around 1098 and at a young age was sent to be an oblate at the Benedictine monastery of Diselbodenburg. She rose to become abbess of her community and her writings were seen as spiritual masterpieces even during her lifetime. Along with Bernard of Clairvaux, she also pushed for reform and spiritual rejuvenation of the Benedictine order. Her willingness to stand up to leaders of the Church, even when the Archbishop of Mainz refused to exhume the body of a man who had been excommunicated from the abbey cemetery. In 2012, she was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI, one of only four women to be so honored. 

In his lecture before the concert, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox — author of several books on Hildegard’s spirituality — said that she reflected a “vision of goodness and love of creation.” He noted that modern society, with its tendency to dominate and exploit the natural world, would do well to heed this advice. Through her music, writings, and witness, Hildegard continues to speak to the church today.