Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves created and hosted by Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out Lisa’s introductory post, here.
Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age
by Fiona Maddocks
Best known today as a fine composer, the twelfth-century German abbess Hildegard of Bingen was also a religious leader and visionary, a poet, naturalist and writer of medical treatises. Despite her cloistered life she had strong, often controversial views on sex, love and marriage too – a woman astonishing in her own age, whose book of apocalyptic visions, Scivias, would alone have been enough to ensure her lasting fame.
In this classic and highly praised biography – first published by Headline in 2001 – distinguished writer and journalist, Fiona Maddocks, draws on Hildegard’s prolific writings to paint a portrait of her extraordinary life against the turbulent medieval background of crusade and schism, scientific discovery and cultural revolution. The great intellectual gifts and forceful character that emerge make her as fascinating as any figure in the Middle Ages.
More than 800 years after her death, Pope Benedict XVI has made Hildegard a Saint and a Doctor of the Church (one of only four women). Fiona Maddocks has provided a short new preface to cover these tributes to an extraordinary and exceptional woman.
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to German history I find it really hard to come across history books that aren’t about the Second World War, and while I 100% think it’s important to remember that era of history and to remember that it was also the German people who suffered under Nazi dictatorship, I think it’s a shame a country’s entire history has been reduced to six years.
Hildegard von Bingen is one of my heroes from history. She claimed to have visions from God, much like Jeanne d’Arc some years later, but she also composed music that is still played today, wrote medical texts and essentially fought the patriarchy to set up her own abbey. There’s even some evidence to suggest she may have been queer. I’ve been fascinated by her ever since I learned about her in a documentary presented by Ken Follett, author of The Pillars of the Earth, some years ago, but I’ve never read a biography of her even though I’ve owned a copy of this one for a few years.
My medieval history isn’t as strong as my knowledge of the Tudor era, and it certainly isn’t strong outside of English medieval history, but Hildegard is someone I really want to know more about, and through her I’m hoping to learn more about what we now know as Germany during this era.
Are there any periods of history you’d like to learn more about? Are there any books about the Middle Ages that you’d recommend?