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Hildegard and Frederick Barbarossa

Her Life › Advisor and admonisher › Hildegard and Frederick Barbarossa

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One of the most famous examples of Hildegard’s role as an admonisher and advisor is shown in her correspondence with the most powerful man in the Empire.

On 4 March 1152, the Holy Roman Empire received a new emperor: Frederick I Barbarossa was elected King in France and crowned five days later. This news also reached Hildegard quickly and she was one of the many people who congratulated him and hoped that the long disputes between the houses of Staufen and Welf would end, since both their lines were connected through the new King. However, Hildegard’s letter was different than the others, because she talked about the „Living Light“ and advised Frederick to be merciful, but also to resists the devil as an „armed soldier“.

A few months later, the King received a second letter from the Abbess of the Rupertsberg. It seemed to be in connection with the intended dismissal of the Mainz Archbishop Henry I, to whom Hildegard had a good relationship. She admonished Frederick to be careful, because in her vision he seemed like a child or a thoughtless person. She continued almost threateningly: „Beware, therefore, lest the Mighty King lay you low, on account of your eyes that are blind and unable to see clearly that you hold in your hand a sceptre for ruling justly.“ How the dispraised reacted to this letter, was unfortunately not handed down. However, it did not sustainably disturb his relationship with Hildegard that until then had still been rather unilateral. Frederick Barbarossa invited the prophet from Bingen to the palace in Ingelheim, which was only 12 km away, in order to get to know her personally. The question as to what both great personalities might have discussed, cannot be answered by the only evidence that was handed down. It is a letter from Frederick to Hildegard:

„We announce to your Holiness that we already hold in our hands what you prophesied when we met in Ingelheim and asked you to appear before us. We will still not stop striving for the honour of the Empire with all efforts. (…) You can be assured that with all your concerns that you will approach us with, we will not consider friendship or hatred of any person and will dispense justice only with regard to righteousness.“

As already seen in her first letter, Hildegard seemed to give the King advice on a good and just execution of his office. The prophecy that Frederick would now hold in his hands is assumed to have been the imperial crown that he received on 18 June 1155 in Rome.
Soon, however, Frederick incurred Hildegard’s anger and disappointed her hopes: In 1159, a schism divided the Church; two Popes were appointed and both claimed to be the only legitimate one. This was a terrible situation for Christianity, because nobody knew who was the Pope willed by God – the salvation of the believers was at risk. Only 18 years later, Alexander III decided this question for himself. Until then, Frederick put in one Antipope after the other. During that time, Hildegard stood by Alexander III and did not mince her words before the Emperor: „He Who Is say: By My own power, I do away with the obstinacy and rebellion of those who scorn Me. Woe, O woe to the evil of those wicked ones who spurn Me! Hear this, O King, if you wish to live. Otherwise, My sword will pierce you.“ Despite these words, Hildegard’s monastery was spared Frederick’s anger, which was rained down on many other supporters of the Pope. Presumably, this letter was only written in 1163. In this year, she received a charter of imperial protection for her monastery on the Rupertsberg that she had asked Frederick for. This charter also certified all the possessions and so the foundation of the monastery was secured and protected by the highest secular authority.