Hildegard was known as a healer throughout Europe. In fact, her monastery at Rupertsberg had a huge herb garden and was well known as a place to get healing herbs. As abbess, she encouraged nuns who were ill to rest well and care for themselves. Despite having health problems of her own, Hildegard ministered to those who came to the monastery for healing. It is said she accepted her own physical sufferings and ailments as a sharing in the passion of Jesus. In this she was like many other mystics such as Teresa of Avila.
Hildegard wrote about diet and healing. Like many today and through the ages, Hildegard preached moderation as “the mother of all the virtues for everything heavenly and earthly…through moderation…the body is nourished with the proper discipline…[like a field that] has not been plowed, you do not find good grain springing up; instead there are only useless weeds. It’s the same with a person who lays on herself more strain than her body can endure.”*
It is interesting that Hildegard identified stress (‘more strain than her body can endure’) as something that is bad for health. Discipline in life, on the other hand, is how to be fruitful like a plowed and planted field.
Stop to think about your life. Do you think you are like a plowed or unplowed field in your habits?
In 1 Corinthians we are reminded “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you received from God? You are not your own property, then; you have been bought with a price. So use your body for the glory of God.” Hildegard emphasized balance in life and diet as a way to physical and spiritual health.
This mandala by Hildegard could make you think of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, although she lived 2 centuries before da Vinci. For her, the mandala is more about humanity’s balance in God than the proportions of a perfect human being. The figure is surrounded by God. In God is found all creation, and all seasons. At the center of that is humanity-or perhaps Christ, the perfection of humanity.
Hildegard suggested 4 rules for healthy living so that you are in balance:
- Strengthening the soul through prayer and meditation, by encouraging talents, and working against evil.
- Detoxification by bloodletting(!), fasting, and other therapies.
- Keeping the soul, body, and mind equally strong so that you are balanced.
- Sharpening the senses by having purpose, optimism, and personal responsibility.
Stop, are there parts of Hildegard’s 4 rules you might add to your routine?
Hildegard, as we saw at the beginning of October, wrote recipes. We often do not think of the diet of 12th century Germany as being varied. Hildegard, however, used numerous healthy foods including meats like poultry, lamb, beef, venison, and goat; fish, fruits (apples, cooked pears, blackberries, raspberries, red currants, cornels, cherries, mulberries, medlar, quinces, sloe berries, grapes, citrus, dates), and even spices in her recipes. She believed these foods were good for you. Other foods she called ‘kitchen poison’: “eel, duck, peas, strawberries, fatty meat, cucumbers, domestic goose, blueberries, elderberries, cabbage, crabs, leeks, lentils, nightshades (like potatoes), olive oil, mushrooms, peaches, plums, refined sugar, millet, raw food, tench (a fish), plaice (a fish), pork, white wheat flour, sausage.”
The drinks she suggested may seem odd to us as they include spelt coffee (spelt is a grain), beer, fruit juice thinned with mountain spring water, wine, goat milk, and teas from fennel, rose hip or sage. Spelt, in fact, was one of her favorite ingredients. She used it in porridge, coffee, and baking. “Spelt creates healthy body, good blood and a happy outlook on life,” she noted. You can read more about her food ideas here.
Many of the foods she considered healthy have been proven to have benefit, like beans, almonds, honey, beets, berries, lavender, clove, cinnamon, and garlic. It is interesting to note that things like refined sugar and fatty meat are now considered to be less healthy by modern dieticians, too.
Stop to consider what you eat. Is it in line with what Hildegard, and modern nutritionists consider healthy?
Next time we will look at God in creation, and our part in that, as seen by Hildegard
*Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka