Land der Hildegard - Hildegard von Bingen

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Richardis of Stade

Her Life › Work as Abbess › Richardis of Stade

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No other event in her life shows us so much about the person Hildegard of Bingen than the happenings concerning her confidant and friend Richardis of Stade. She was much younger than Hildegard and born in 1125 as the daughter of the margravine with the same name who helped Hildegard so much with the founding of her own monastery. Apart from the monk Volmar, she was the closest confidant and friend of the Abbess and also supported her in writing Scivias:

„When I wrote the book Scivias, I bore a strong love to a noble nun, (…), like the one of Paul to Timothy, who connected with me in friendship and love during all those events, and who suffered with me until I finished this book.“

However, a short time later, in 1151, Richardis asked to leave the monastery. Her brother Hartwig who had been Archbishop of Bremen since 1148, was able to find her a post as Abbess in Bassum in northern Germany. Hildegard was deeply affected, disappointed and hurt by this:

„Then, however, due to her noble origin, she strove for the honour of a greater name in order to be called the mother of a prestigious church. And she did not strive for this for the sake of God, but for her own secular glory.“

The judgement is hard and perhaps one-sided, but about Richardis’ reasons, we know nothing.

When Hildegard did not want to let Richardis go, her brother approached the Archbishop of Mainz, Henry I who then wrote admonishing words to Hildegard:

„This is what we, by virtue of the authority of our ministry and by virtue of our fatherhood impose on you and command you to immediately release her to lead the ones pleading for and seeking her help.“

In fact, the Abbess could not defy this order, but she did – however, it was not her who decided:

„The clear source that is not deceitful, but just, speaks: The reasons adduced for the authorization of this young woman are worthless before God, because I the Exalted, (…) did not create and choose them, but they arose from the unseemly boldness of ignorant minds.“

Hildegard also wrote a letter to Margravine Richardis, but all her efforts did not help: Richardis heeded the request of her family and left for Bassum where she served as Abbess. Hildegard still did not give up and pleadingly addressed Archbishop Hartwig:

„Hear me now, cast down as I am, miserably weeping at your feet. (…) Send my dearest daughter back to me.“

Again, her pleading went unheard.

Her next step may seem to be out of relation, but it shows what this matter meant to Hildegard – she addressed the highest instance, the Pope! His answer equalled an indirect rejection. Hildegard had to realize now that she had lost Richardis. She disclosed her feelings in a last letter to her:

„Pain grows in me. Pain kills the great confidence and comfort that I had in mankind. (…) one should not depend on a person of high birth, for such a one inevitably withers like a flower. This was the very transgression I myself committed because of my love for a certain noble individual. (…) Now, let all who have grief like mine mourn with me, all who, in the love of God, have had such great love in their hearts and minds for a person – as I had for you – but who was snatched away from them in an instant, as you were from me. Be mindful of your poor desolate mother, Hildegard, so that your happiness may not fade.“

Hildegard’s letter sounds accusing. One can imagine how a young Abbess might have felt about such disappointing words from her former confidant. Hildegard wrote this letter presumably in 1152 and probably in the same year she received a message from Richardis’ brother Hartwig:

„I write to inform you that our sister – my sister in body, but yours in spirit – has gone the way of all flesh (…). Filled with her usual Christian spirit (at the last anointing), she tearfully expressed her longing for your cloister with her whole heart.“

The sudden death surely hit her hard, but still she did not show any understanding for Richardis’ decision. She wrote back to Hartwig:

„Hear! God favoured her so greatly that the worldly desire had no power to embrace her. (…) But the ancient serpent had attempted to deprive her of that blessed honor by assaulting her through her human nobility. Yet the mighty Judge drew this my daughter to Himself, cutting her off from all human glory.“

From the happenings around Richardis it can be seen that also the great prophet was a human created from flesh and blood and could react in a human way in situations of great disappointment and hurt. When she wrote her autobiographic notes at the age of about 70, the embitterment about past events was still present:

„After turning away from me, secluding into another region far away from us, she soon lost her earthly life with the honourable name.“