Connecting Heaven and Earth: Singing Hildegard

September 17 marks the feast day of 12th century Benedictine abbess and powerfrau, Hildegard von Bingen.

Born in the Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard (1098–1179) was a visionary and polymath. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, and wrote nine books addressing both scientific and religious subjects, an unprecedented accomplishment for a 12th-century woman. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine.

Over eight centuries after her death, Hildegard was finally canonized in May 2012 and in October 2012 was elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for the most distinguished theologians.

But most people today know Hildegard best for her soaring ethereal music.

The first composer for whom we have a biography, she composed seventy-seven sacred songs, as well as Ordo Virtutum, a liturgical drama set to music.

Her melodies are completely unlike the plainchant of her era—or…

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