These days I am asked what books I would recommend to read about or by St. Hildegard.
First, let me say that I would recommend reading one of the well written novels or one of her books on nature, herbs or medicines*. To try to tackle Scivias or another difficult work of hers would be like doing advanced math before one could add or subtract.
At the top of my list is a book actually written for children but a joy with its colorful pictures and the text incorporates snippets of St. Hildegard's writings.
The SECRET WORLD of HILDEGARD by Jonah & Jeanette Winter.
"Winter's direct writing style makes Hildegard's confusion, suffering and ultimate rejoicing palpable for young readers. Jeanette Winter uses bold graphic imagery, rich, earthy tones and distinct facial expressions in her elegantly composed, neatly framed paintings, conveying a sense of drama and reverence throughout.
A concise profile and bibliography further illuminate Hildegard's many outstanding achievements."
One of the best novels is SCARLET MUSIC by Joan Ohanneson. Weaving into her text St. Hildegard's own vivid accounts, the author brings this saint to life. Despite some historical inaccuracies, that maybe only monastics would pick up, the book is beautifully written and is not afraid to present the saint as all too human, dealing with the concerns and fears that must have accompanied her extraordinary visionary gifts.
The JOURNAL of HILDEGARD of BINGEN by Barbara Lachman
is another good fictional memoir, drawn from the saint's writings and will appeal to historians and those interested in the spiritual life. The author, having studied St.Hildegard for many years, structures her imagined diary around the liturgical feasts of 1152, a busy year for the 54-year-old abbess. With simplicity and adroitness, she entices even the agnostic reader to contemplate St. Hildegard's spiritual concerns as intrinsic to her character. The woman who emerges in this portrait is warm, wise, alert to nature, and responsive to the visible and invisible worlds.
Another book by B. Lachman is HILDEGARD, THE LAST YEAR. Imagining St. Hildegard's thoughts during the 80th year of her life, the author creates a "journal" such as St. Hildegard might have kept. A moving meditation on the power and meaning of the word, music, and silence, and a compelling work of historical re-creation.
A soon to be released ( Oct.9) novel is ILLUMINATIONS by Mary Sharratt. Skillfully interweaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination.
“With elegance and sensitivity, Mary Sharratt rescues Hildegard von Bingen from the obscurity of legend, bringing to life the flesh-and-blood woman in all her conflict, faith, and unwavering tenacity. Illuminations is an astonishing revelation of a visionary leader willing to sacrifice everything to defend her beliefs in a dangerous time of oppression.”
—C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
* A word of caution: stay away from the works of Matthew Fox. He has been credited with putting St. Hildegard "on the radar" in the USA, but he has more or less contributed to all the craziness about her in the New Age & feminist movements!
VOICE of the LIVING LIGHT, Barbara Newman (Ed.)
"This is a well-crafted and keenly focused overview of St. Hildegard's life and thought. The contributors adhere to the highest standards of scholarship, write with engagement and clarity, offer new insights, provide a good sense of earlier interpretations, and furnish both provocative insights and excellent clues for further exploration into the subject. This truly is a superior work."--Grover Zinn, Oberlin College
THE CREATIVE SPIRIT: HARMONIOUS LIVING with HILDEGARD of BINGEN by June Boyce-Tillman. St. Hildegard's twelfth-century teachings, founded on the Benedictine Rule, bring with them a wholistic sense that still speaks to today's spiritual seekers. Her ideas on the interdependence of male and female, health and ecology, and the arts and sciences, were centuries ahead of their time and assure us that God's life-giving power courses through all of life, no matter how bleak the outlook might seem.
HILDEGARD of BINGEN: A VISIONARY LIFE by Sabrina Flanagan. Drawing on contemporary sources, the text unfolds the saint's life from the time of her entrance into an anchoress's cell to her death as a famed visionary and writer, abbess and confidante of popes and kings, more than seventy years later. Against this background the author explores St. Hildegard's vast creative work, encompassing theology, medicine, natural history, poetry, and music.
SYMPHONIA edited and translated by Barbara Newman. This is a revised edition of St. Hildegard's liturgical song cycle. Barbara Newman has redone her prose translations of the songs, updated the bibliography and discography, and made other minor changes. Also included is an essay by Marianne Richert Pfau which delineates the connection between music and text in the Symphonia.