Hildegard was born in 1098, the tenth and last child of apparently noble parents in Mainz. They offered her to God as tithe, according to her biographer/secretary. Precarious health and a visionary gift were obvious from age three, when she experienced a "brightness so great that [her] soul trembled." She was able to tell the color of a calf still in the womb. In 1106 Hildegard became a companion of Jutta von Sponheim, a noblewoman who rejected offers of marriage in favor of the Benedictine cloister where she became anchoress, obliged to remain in her cell until death. The Benedictines taught elementary reading and singing in Latin; the primer was the Psalter. Hildegard continued her education with Volmer of Saint Disibod, a monk not much older than Hildegard -- a man who became her secretary and lifelong friend. In 1136 at Jutta's death, she became the replacement abbess at the double monastery.
Although she had been reluctant to acknowledge such experiences, in 1141 Hildegard had a blinding vision with a divine call to "tell and write." She began composing music in 1140s; Symphonia is the later cycle of collected works. She also wrote about her visions with Volmer as copy editor. Scivias (Scito vias Domini = know the ways of the Lord) is this collection of visions and exegesis, written over the course of ten years (1141-51). In this excerpt, Hildegard describes her vision of the devil embodied as a monstrous worm. After her description, she interprets some of the key images.
Having visions could be a touchy political matter in the Middle Ages. In 1147 Hildegard sought the Church's endorsement and wrote to Bernard of Clairvaux for guidance. Bernard encouraged her and interceded on her behalf with Pope Eugenius III who also had heard of visions. Her fame grew and more postulants sought her out. A vision directed her to Rupertsberg near Bingen. The monastery there had been in ruins since the Norman destruction in 882. Initially there were objections within the monastery against Hildegard's going. She took to bed, and eventually this sudden illness was taken as God's displeasure at the delay. She moved in 1150 with twenty-some nuns. They got to wear tiaras inspired by one of visions (emblems of blessed virgins in heaven).
In 1158-1160 Hildegard undertook four preaching journeys, each rather apocalyptic. The years 1158-1163 also saw the production of Liber vitae meritorum (The Book of Life's Merits): six visions and glosses. In the 1150s she wrote two volumes on natural science: Physica (tural History), a scientific and medical encyclopedia with herbal, bestiary, and lapidary inclusions; and Causae et curae (Causes and Cures), a handbook of physical and mental diseases and their cures with extensive material on sexuality. She also wrote Lingua ignota (Unknown Language), a glossary of nine hundred plus invented Germanic-sounding names for earthly and celestial beings, and Litterae ignotae (Unknown Writing) an alternative alphabet of 23 characters.
1163-1174 saw her third and final visionary trilogy volume, De operatione Dei (On the Activity of God; a.k.a. Liber divinorum operum, The Book of Divine Works), ten visions and commentaries on the prologue to the Gospel of John and Genesis 1. Hildegard died September 17th, 1179.
Hildegard paints us several pictures of the end times, but the one that was most powerful is this picture in her book Scivias ("know the ways of the Lord."), the visionary book that she wrote in the 1140s when she was 42. The book depicts Hildegard visions, many of the connected with the heavenly world, but others dealing with the course of history. One of these famous images is the picture of the kingdoms of the end time and the birth of Antichrist from the Church. This is a powerful image of a vast female figure representing the Church, with this horrible monstrous head being born from the woman. And that of course is the image of the Antichrist, who will be born from the Church, who will persecute believing Christians, and who will try to pretend that he is divine by ascending into heaven.