September 17 Saints of the Day – Agathocleia, and Hildegard of Bingen

On this day in 1814, Francis Scott Key finished his poem “Defence of Fort McHenry,” better known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” On the bottom he scratched, “Note to self: set this to a singable tune.”

Agathocleia<strongAgathocleia (d. ca. 230) was a slave, which is bad enough right there, but it gets worse. Her owners were Christians who converted to paganism, and they insisted that Agatha follow suit. She said No. They insisted. She said No. No points for guessing where this leads. The lady of the house, Paulina, took it in hand to convince her slave to convert, and subjected her to a number of unpleasant torments (actually most torments are unpleasant if you think about it). She even tried to starve her, but an ad hoc avian food delivery service thwarted that plan.

Eventually the local magistrate ordered that Agatha’s tongue be cut out, but even this didn’t satisfy Paulina’s blood lust; she finally killed her by pouring hot coals on her neck. Agathocleia is the patron saint of Mequinenza, Aragón, Spain, where her name is spelled Agatoclia.

Hildegard of BingenHildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179), arguably the greatest medieval sacred composer, and arguably the greatest woman composer ever, was inarguably the daughter (eighth or tenth) of a “free lower nobility” family in the Rhineland. She was apprenticed at eight (or fourteen) to an anchoress named Jutta, and in their hermitage, attached (figuratively) to the monastery of Disibodenberg (“disembodied mountain”), she learned to read and write. Worship at the church introduced her to sacred music, and the monk Volmar, who became Hilda’s lifelong friend and secretary, may have at this time taught her psalm notation and the ten-stringed lyre.

When Jutta died, Kuno (abbot of Disibodenberg) tried to make Hildegard prioress, to keep her under his thumb. Desiring to be far away from his thumb, our heroine asked that the nuns be allowed to remove themselves to Rupertsberg (“Piña Colada Mountain”). When Kuno refused, Hildegard went over his head to the archbishop, but Kuno bucked the bish and blocked the move. He finally relented when Hildegard fell ill and attributed it to God’s displeasure with her lack of displacement. Volmar served as provost and confessor to the nuns in their new digs.

Hildegard had had her first religious vision at three, and by five she realized that’s what they were. She documented these in writing, but at first shared them only with Jutta and Volmar. She found that writing gave her strength (she was always pretty sickly), and opened her mind to the understanding of the Gospel teachings. Like John at Patmos, she was commanded in her visions to write, so she wrote. Nevertheless she feared that her works were not theologically sound, and so sent a sample thereof for evaluation. When a passage of her great work Scivias was read to Pope Eugenius III, he wrote her back saying, “Write on.”

Hildegard also wrote voluminously on theology, botany, and medicine, as well as numerous poems, and letters (400 of these remain) to persons both great and humble. But she is arguably most famous for her corpus of choral works, the greatest of which is (inarguably) her musical morality play, Ordo Virtutum (“The Order of the Virtues”) (honest). (Your intrepid blogger is fortunate to own a copy of this, and recommends it highly to all lovers of that sort of thing.) In this monophonic (one-melody (at a time)) piece (polyphony had not yet been invented in medieval Europe), the virtues are accosted by the Devil (probably played by Volmar) for control of a human soul. Needless to say the virtues win. Ordo Virtutum is called the first morality play (by about 100 years), and is the only medieval musical drama for which the composer and librettist are both known.

Hilda also created an artificial language, lingua ignota (with its own alphabet even), and is considered by many conlangers (artificial language inventors) to be the mother of their discipline. She used it to record her visions and communicate with her nuns.

She was canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, and is only the fourth woman to be proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

September 17 (Wikipedia)
Agathoclia (Wikipedia) – Main source
Martyr Agathocleia (OCA)
Saint Agathoclia (SQPN)
Miniature of Agathocleia from Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule).
Saint Hildegard von Bingen (SQPN) – Main source
Hildegard of Bingen (Wikipedia)
Ordo Virtutum (Wikipedia)
Lingua Ignota (Wikipedia)
Doctor of the Church (Wikipedia)
Constructed language (Wikipedia)
Miniature of Hildegard (possibly by her own hand) from Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule).