The 900 year old nun

Since 1987, the U.S. government has recognized March as Women’s History Month. In the decades since, ever more countries have made Women’s History Month a part of their societies.

In Germany, Berlin has observed International Women’s Day – March 8 – as an official holiday since 2019.

During this time of celebrating women’s accomplishments, we wanted to tell you about an important and famous woman who spent most of her life in the same region where TIP TOP’s office is today.

In this Learning Nugget, get to know Hildegard von Bingen – a composerhealer, writer, and mystic whose works and legacy have interested people for over 900 years.

Hildegard’s early life

Hildegard was born to a wealthy family in 1098, and she was dedicated to the church when she was very young. At just the age of eight, she moved permanently to Disibodenberg Monastery and lived under the care of Jutta von Sponheim. There Hildegard learned reading, writing, music, healing, and more.

When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was chosen as the new leader of Disibodenberg’s nuns. By that time, she was in her late 30s. 

Visions, writing, music, and fame

Soon after taking on her leadership role, Hildegard made it public knowledge that she had been having visions since she was a young child that she believed were messages from God. Eventually, a group of male theologians decided that she was right.

With the help of a monk, Hildegard produced books based on her visions that are some of the few extensive religious texts from a woman’s perspective from that time period. Along with recording her visions, Hildegard wrote music, poetry, medical texts, and many letters to powerful people. 

She is the first known female composer in the Western world and her observations and research related to healing and natural remedies were advanced for their time.

Hildegard’s notoriety helped her win a fight with Disibodenberg’s abbott about whether she and her nuns could live by themselves about 30 kilometers away in Rupertsberg near Bingen – a rare win for a woman against a man of power in the Middle Ages. They moved in the 1140s and Hildegard died there in 1179 at the age of 81.

Hildegard from modern perspectives

Hildegard was famous during her lifetime and remains so to this day, but there’s a lot of debate surrounding her legacy. These are a few of the most contentious topics:

The voice of God or just migraines?
Many scholars believe that Hildegard’s descriptions of the onset of her visions match up with the symptoms of people who suffer from recurring, intense migraine headaches. 

Suspect medical advice

Enthusiasts of New Age healing and health often use Hildegard’s nearly century-old writings to validate beliefs that have been debunked by modern medical science.

Was Hildegard a feminist?

In the 20th and 21st century some scholars have debated whether Hildegard should be considered an early feminist. She clearly did not stay in the boxes the Middle Ages usually forced around women and she was willing to stand up to powerful men.

However, she also often wrote that her status as a woman made her less than a man – though some believe this was just a tactic to make men more willing to read her works.

Find your own Hildegard

The Disibodenberg Monastery ruins and the chapel in Rupertsberg that Hildegard founded are short drives away from TIP TOP’s office as is the Museum am Strom in Bingen that has a permanent exhibit on Hildegard.

You could pair up a trip to those sights with attending our upcoming seminar on March 28-29: Meet the World. Seminar participants will learn to more successfully participate in and lead meetings with international attendees – all through TIP TOP’s signature fun, interactive methods.

Learn more on our TIP TOP’s website.


decade – Jahrzehnt

society – Gesellschaft

observe – befolgen, erachten

accomplishment – Leistung

composer – Komponist, Komponistin

healer – Heilerin, Heiler

mystic – Mystiker, Mystikerin

legacy – Vermächtnis, Erbe

wealthy – wohlhabend

dedicate – widmen

live under the care of s.b. – unter der Obhut von jmd. leben

leadership role – Führungsrolle

monk – Mönch

some of the few – einige der wenigen

extensive religious texts – umfangreiche religiöse Texte

natural remedies – natürliche Heilmittel

notoriety – Allbekanntheit

abbott – Abt, Vorsteher

nun – Nonne

contentious topics – strittige Themen

scholar – Stipendiat

recurring – wiederkehrend

validate – validieren

debunk – entlarven

force – zwingen

stand up to s.b. – jmd. die Stirn bieten

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

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