Vision – From the Life of Hildegarde von Bingen purports to be a cinematic portrayal of Hildegarde von Bingen, a 12th-century German nun who gained traction in feminist circles in the 1990s (among the same folks who tried to promote the idea of referring to God as “She”) as an inspiration and proto-feminist, while putting a positive spin on such moral defects as arrogance, self-promotion, and egoism, all perhaps harder to translate to the cinematic medium than is the bitchiness she is portrayed as having in the movie.
The movie is a dramatic, rather than a historically accurate portrayal of Hildegarde’s life. Besides the fact that the real Hildegarde might not have been nearly as bitchy as she was portrayed in the movie, she was also not nearly as confident about her education and intellectual abilities.
Though the movie does not say so outright, it is historically known that Hildegarde was the 10th child, and as such, was tithed to the church, by being effectively given to the convent. This was reportedly the practice in mediaeval Europe, the justification being that all other goods were tithed to the church, and that a given family would be likely not to be sure of having enough food for a 10th child.
The movie takes some liberties with other biographical details: the “Jutta” in the movie is another little girl sent to live in a convent and be brought up by Benedictine nuns, while in the preceding historical biography, “Jutta” is an anchoress to whom Hildegarde and several other girls are entrusted to be brought up in the church and for the church. In the movie, however, both Hildegarde and an age peer named Jutta are shown to have grown up in an organized Benedictine convent with several older nuns, and late mediaeval architecture, with considerably more “breathing room” than an anchorage built for one. Both girls are seen to receive their religious and moral training there, and, remaining in the cloister, become nuns (as was clearly expected of them) upon growing up. When the mother superior of the convent dies, the nuns must choose a new superior. The Abbott of the mens’ section of the cloister, who also has authority over the nuns in the womens’ section (funny how that works!) wants to appoint Hildegarde, but Hildegarde protests that she is unwilling to take the position; not out of humility or the wish to put on an appearance thereof, but because the rules of the convent state that the other sisters must vote for her. They do so, and Hildegarde becomes Abbess. She thereafter exhibits a lot less concern for the letter of the law.
In spite of the movie’s depiction of the cloister for the nuns being standard mediaeval architecture of its kind, it is hardly the ideal living situation, as it is part of a larger compound with separate buildings containing Benedictines of both sexes. The consequence of this, shown later in the movie, is that while Hildegarde is Abbess, a younger nun becomes pregnant on her watch. Threatened with not only her condition becoming obvious, but expulsion from the community, and being cast out by society as well as he religious order, she ends up dead after having eaten a poisonous mushroom, a probable suicide. Though many of Hildegarde’s written works decry expressions of human sexuality which don’t meet the church’s approval, she is seen in the movie to protest the double standard that prevailed in the situation. While the girl suffered gravely the consequences of having broken her vow of chastity, the religious brother who impregnated her still remained unidentified and at large. Hildegarde then insisted on building a separate convent for the nuns at some distance away from the original compound, claiming that God showed her the spot in a vision (an area near the Rhine river where St. Rupert was said to have lived), justifying her actions though her religious superior (the Abbott of the combined compound) claimed her breakaway convent was against The Rule (of St. Benedict).

Some of Hildegarde’s conduct shows serious contradictions. Though when a teenaged girl is presented to her as Abbess in much the same way as she was essentially given to the convent when she was younger, she tries to make it clear to the girl that no one in the convent is there against her will, and that it is OK if the girl doesn’t want to make such a serious commitment to religious life at such an early age. Nevertheless, it is soon made clear that the girl is a picture of fawning adoration, and has fallen under the spell of Hildegarde’s forceful personality, Hildegarde having gained some worldly fame by then. Perhaps Hildegarde’s ego is stoked by such a malleable young follower: she has serious trouble letting go when the girl becomes older and is offered a position as an Abbess for another convent. (Such a lateral move is not that unusual in religious orders to ensure that a religious house has an objective leader at some remove from internal jealousies and factionalism).
Though the girl takes the position as Abbess of the new convent, having briefly defied Hildegarde (facilitated by the fact that her brother was Bishop, and he specifically wanted his sister to head the new convent), Hildegarde successfully gave the young nun such a burden of guilt, that though she takes the new position, she dies “heartbroken” shortly thereafter.
As the girl had rightly observed, Hildegarde’s fame is helped along by the fact that she corresponds with the high and mighty and engages in some very effective self-promotion with both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, including, as shown in the movie, a visit to then Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa. (Perhaps this lack of humility may be the reason the church has been dragging its feet for centuries on sainthood for her in spite of her tangible achievements and periodic popularity.)
Though in the movie Hildegarde is shown at times in a weakened state or seemingly near death, and at one time, in a catatonic state, it is generally agreed in the present day that she suffered from Migraine, rather than any serious mental health problems (other than an inflated ego, perhaps).
When Hildegarde died, she told the other nuns attending her at the time to “have no fear”, because she “hadn’t taken the discipline”. The cinematic Hildegarde conflates terminology: at the beginning of the movie, a religious is seen to scourge herself with a discipline, a multiple-stringed whip, a hand-held flogger similar in form to a “cat-o-nine tails”, but considerably smaller and lighter, intended for use on oneself, rather than others. When the Abbess who preceded Hildegarde died, she was found to have been wearing a cilice belt, a chain mail band with inward-pointing barbs, similar to barbed wire.
The cilice belt was shown to have cut into her flesh, producing nasty (possibly infected) wounds, possibly hastening her death as well as compounding her suffering. The gruesome sight this presented to the nuns who prepared her for burial was what perhaps Hildegarde had in mind when choosing to refrain from this practice, though it is separate and distinct from the self-flagellation which is referred to as “the discipline” and has been and (in some orders) still is, part of their monastic Rule, unlike the use of the cilice in any form, which is completely elective. While such practices of mortification of the flesh were both more mainstream and widespread within the church and in religious orders in Hildegarde’s time, it was always the church’s official position to advise those who engaged in them to refrain from taking them to extremes in which they caused serious bodily harm. (The church largely abolished such practices within mainstream institutions and religious orders during Vatican II in response to prevailing psychiatric opinion that it was mentally harmful).
Those who engage in such practices in modern times say that cinematic portrayals show them having more extreme effects on the human body than they actually do, and that while physical discomfort is the intended result, serious and obvious bodily harm isn’t.
Hildegard von Bingen’s ideas about Medicine and some of her music gained popularity in the early 1990s among feminist theists and their ilk.

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