Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light

In his book Walking to Canterbury, mentioned in the last entry, Tony Ellis mixes a lot of interesting information about the Middle Ages in with his account of his walk from London to Canterbury to the shrine of the martyr Thomas Becket.

In his discussion of “The Nun’s Tale” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” Ellis cites a passage from the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, the abbess of Disibodengerg, who actually corresponded with Becket, as well as numerous other historical figures including Pope Eugenius and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

She was a pretty gutsy person, it seems, because she told the legendary Barbarossa, “Take care that the Highest King does not strike you down because of the blindness which prevents you from governing justly. See that God does not withdraw his grace from you.”

When I read this passage, written by Hildegard in her old age, I knew exactly what she was talking about, because I saw the same light once in a dream:

“From my infancy up to the present time, when I am more than seventy years of age, I have always seen this light in my spirit… The light which I see… is more brilliant than the sun, and I name it the cloud of living light.

“And as the sun, moon, and stars are reflected in the water, so the scripture and sermons, and virtues, and works of men shine in it before me…

“But sometimes I see within this light another light which I call the Living Light itself…

“And when I look upon it every sadness and pain is erased from my memory, so that I am once more as a simple maid and not as an old woman.”