Land der Hildegard - Hildegard von Bingen

Klosterruine Disibodenberg

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Her Life › Years of study in the hermitage › Life

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On 1 November 1112, on All Saints’ Day, Hildegard’s new life as a recluse in the nun’s convent in the Benedictine monastery at Disibodenberg started. Today, these terms, which describe a special religious form of life in the Middle Ages, mean something for a few people only. Recluses or hermits were men and women who decided, out of free will, to be enclosed in a hermitage in order to live a pious, almost angelic life (vita angelica). The hermitages could be isolated or were cells abutted to churches, bridges or city walls. The decision to become a recluse was mostly made to last for an entire life. As can be seen from the example of Hildegard, however, there were also exceptions to the rule. A rule stemming from the 10th century says that a hermitage should have three windows: one should ensure participation in services (so the hermitage had to be abutted to a church), the second should serve to receive food and to keep in contact with visitors, and finally the third should lighten the hermitage with sunlight. These statements, however, never became universally valid. From some hermitages, it is known that they possessed small gardens. A hermitage was not always lived in alone. There were ones where communities lived together under the lead of a magistra or rectrix, as we know from the Disibodenberg. The life of these recluses was similar to a life in a monastery with a specifically strict conclave. In the course of the monastic reform movement of the 11th and 12th century, many women in particular took up such a life.

Whereas reclusive seclusion was almost free from constraints of church law for a long time, the future recluses in Hildegard’s time required the consent of the church authorities, and the „enclosing“ was accompanied by a solemn ceremony. During the High and Late Middle Ages, several treatises originated that discussed the way of life of the recluses. They emphasized that the enclosed should only devote themselves to penance and prayer, should have little contact with the outside world and should live a humble life. That there certainly were recluses who attached great importance on relationships to the outside world and performed far more than prayer and penance, is demonstrated by the lives of Jutta and Hildegard on the Disibodenberg.

Hildegard’s Vita reports of her entry into the hermitage that she „should be buried with Christ“ and was „enclosed at St. Disibod“. Initially, there were three of the girls, but over the course of time, when Jutta’s reputation spread, the number increased to ten recluses. Nothing is known about the appearance of, or furnishing in the hermitage. As it was also not known where it was situated, it cannot be said whether the women were able to follow the service of the monks in one way or another. Their life in the hermitage was determined by the Benedictine rhythm of life. As for the monks, their day was structured by the seven periods of prayer. In between, they did handicraft or needlework, participated in spiritual readings and were taught by their teacher and leader, Jutta. In order to be able to study the Bible or the Psalter, the girls also learned reading and writing, and Jutta also instructed them to sing psalms. Hildegard was, however, denied an education in the taught septem artes liberales – the Seven Liberal Arts – which were comprised of grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.