Egeria vs. Hildegard

Today it's Egeria vs. Hildegard of Bingen. The world's original "Mystery Worshipper" vs. a 12th century renaissance woman. Both have had a major impact upon the Christianity we have inherited, yet only one will advance to the Saintly Sixteen. We're expecting a flurry of comments on this. Let the agonizing over votes begin!

But first, speaking of comments, sometime during yesterday's battle between Jackson Kemper and Margery Kempe, we passed the 20,000 comment milestone on the Lent Madness website. That's a lot of conversation about holy people, don't you think?

Oh, and Kemper trounced Kempe 74% to 26% meaning he'll face the winner of Bernard Mizecki vs. Margaret of Antioch in the Saintly Sixteen.

egeria 3Egeria

Egeria gives us the earliest glimpse we have into organized Christian practice and belief.

We don’t know much about who she was, exactly. Many say she was a Spanish nun, which makes sense given her unusually high level of literacy — and the way she addressed those she wrote to as sisters. Others point out she must have been an unusual sort of nun, if she was a nun at all. Her letters were detailed and practical, betraying none of the fascination with the miraculous and fanciful that some other clerical pilgrims loved. And what sort of nun was free to travel around the known world for years at a time? Possibly this made her a sort of wandering monastic — additionally unusual for her time. Or maybe she was a very devout noblewoman, called to pilgrimage, who wrote letters home to other devout women at her church.

Egeria traveled across much of the known world during 381-384 CE to Jerusalem, Mount Sinai, Constantinople, and Edessa. Her letters were collected in monasteries and copied, then copied again. They were housed in the library of Monte Cassino, and the oldest surviving copies were made there in the eleventh century.

Egeria recorded everything: she stayed in Jerusalem to witness an entire liturgical year and wrote down the liturgical practices of the local Christians. She described the holy sites on the Mount of Olives and the rituals around Holy Week. She told of the ritual of the eucharist as practiced in Jerusalem, and Egeria applauded the practice of reading from the Old and New Testaments as well as passages from the gospels. She described the process by which catechumens were taught the faith and baptized. It is from Egeria that we know about Holy Week rituals like the veneration of the Cross and the procession of the palms on Palm Sunday. It is also from her that we hear for the first time of the Easter Vigil and lighting of the first fire of Easter.

She described liturgical practice at a time when Christian beliefs were just becoming unified across the known world. Remember, the Second Ecumenical Council met in 384 CE, so Egeria was traveling and writing about liturgical practice before the formalization of the Nicene Creed, much less other traditions of the Church.

Through her bravery, her wandering feet, and her meticulous eye for detail, Egeria connected our liturgical practice with that of our earliest sisters and brothers in Christ.

Collect for Egeria

Jesus, our brother, as we, like Egeria, dare to follow in the steps you trod, be our companion on the way. May our eyes see not only the stones that saw you but the people who walk with you now; may our feet tread not only the path of your pain but the streets of a living city; may our prayers embrace not only the memory of your presence but the flesh and blood who jostle us today. Bless us, with them, and make us long to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Amen.

-Megan Castellan


Hildegard of Bingen is one of the most accomplished women in church history. The twelfth-century abbess was a mystic, theologian, composer, cloistered nun, and autodidact who wrote one of the largest bodies of letters to survive from the Middle Ages.

Born into a noble family and sickly from birth, Hildegard experienced visions beginning in early childhood. Perhaps because of them, her family dedicated her to the church; her fellow brides of Christ recognized her gifts for leadership, unanimously voting her abbess.

At the age of forty-two, Hildegard received a divine vision to“write down that which you see and hear.” Hesitant to do so, she resisted and became physically ill. “But I, though I saw and heard these things, refused to write for a long time through doubt the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness; then, compelled at last by many illnesses...I set my hand to the writing.”

Later, she commissioned an ornate manuscript of her writings, including images of her visions. The original was lost in World War II, but its images were preserved in a copy painted in the 1920s. Notably, these theological works contain one of the earliest descriptions of purgatory.

Hildegard’s musical compositions make up one of the largest extant medieval collections in the world. Her medical writings demonstrate her vast experience in the monastery’s herbal garden and infirmary. Physica and Causae et Curae provide a rare view into the practical medicine employed primarily by medieval women. Hildegard believed there was a vital connection between the natural world and human health. Her reputation as a medical writer and healer was used in early arguments for women’s right to attend medical school. Hildegard also invented an alternative mystical language, the Lingua Ignota, perhaps to strengthen the bonds among her nuns, and potentially as a result of all that time she spent in her herb garden.

On September 17, 1179, Hildegard died, and two beams of light were said to shine across the sky and into her room. Her relics are housed in her parish in Eibingen, Germany. In Anglican churches, she is commemorated on the day of her death.

Modern feminist scholars have drawn attention to the way Hildegard strategically belittled herself and other women in her writing, and thus claimed her wisdom had solely divine origin, giving her the authority to speak in a time and place where few women could do so. She also stated that, “woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman.”

In space, the minor planet 898 Hildegard is named for her, which only seems fair, given her astronomical intellect and accomplishments.

Collect for Hildegard

God of all times and seasons: Give us grace that we, after the example of thy servant Hildegard, may both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of thy creation, and show forth thy glory not only with our lips but in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Amber Belldene


[poll id="119"]


* indicates required

Recent Posts




364 comments on “Egeria vs. Hildegard”

    1. I was fortunate to be able to worship at the church dedicated to Hildegard in Bingen several years ago while visiting friends in Germany. I was so impressed by the service even though I speak no German because they had children bring up the gifts which included real bread! I have never been to a Catholic church which celebrated the Eucharist in this way! The church is magnificently beautiful and inspiring. It is a worthy tribute to such a dynamic women. Debbie Wikander

    2. That was my tipping point - she's the first composer we have music for. She's my pick for the Golden Halo (after facing Margery Kempe in the finals) so I may have to pick some new favorites for the Saintly 16. Egeria is certainly an inspiring person as well.

    3. Hildegard as noted has gotten a lot of adulation and Egeria very little. Egeria got my vote because I had never heard of her and Lenten Madness is about learning more about those that went before us.

      1. Egeria caught me when the writing referred to her writing down the rites and rituals. I had never experienced the veneration of the cross until a couple of years ago and was very moved by the experience so my vote was for Egeria.

      2. Christina--I so agree with you. Hildegard was wonderful and has been acclaimed throughout the ages, but I admit to never having heard of Egeria either. Like you,
        I believe that it's learning about "heroes" that makes this site so great. Also, I some-
        times like to go with the underdog--but HEY,, Egeria is ahead right now.

    4. Wow! What a tough choice. I was impressed by Egeria's recording of the Holy Week traditions in the Church, but as both a writer AND a musician, I had to go with Hildegard. You have inspired me to re-buy the recordings of her music that I lost to Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. I'm also awed by her support of women's rights, way back then. Too bad we don't have her to lobby for us today!

  1. When one thinks about it; Egeria was an early Anthropologist. She observed and recorded early Christian practices.Hildegard of Bingen is a worthy opponent but Egeria got my vote because she was a " practical " Christian. Without her writings a lot would have been lost to the mists of times. Early Christianity could not have grown much less survive on visions alone.

    1. why say that? she recorded what she saw, didn't develop these practices herself. Word of what was going on in Jerusalem could have gotten out another way. Hildegard for me.

      1. I am with you! Hildegard kept a convent afloat in difficult circumstances, was a valued advisor to all kinds of people, and can be said to have invented opera while she was composing great religious music. She was a genius, a star, and deeply devoted to her order and her community. No contest for me.

      2. I rather agree. Many commentators stress Egeria's important contributions to our liturgical practices, but I can't help feeling that if Egeria, hadn't told us about them, someone else would have sooner or later. But nobody else could have written the music Hildegard wrote.

        1. I think the fact that Egeria DID record the liturgical practices rather than waiting for someone else to do this "sooner or later" merits my vote.

          1. I also agree. This was a tough choice because both contributed much, but Egeria DID indeed revere and record for us!

          2. Wish we knew more about Egeria's life. However, she gave us wonderful insight into the early church. Egeria's for me.

      3. Cultural anthropologists record what they see rather than try to change or effect it. I was thinking about her as one of the first anthropologists while I was reading her history and liking her for her recording of current practice at the time. It seems that without her writing, we might think many practices were later Medieval additions, but because of her, we know they were very early practices within the Church. Hildegard seems a very worthy opponent, and I enjoyed reading about her, but I will cast my vote for Egeria.

    2. I agree. This one was tough, but I tend to lean toward practical Christianity and useful results.

  2. So without Egeria no procession on Palm Sunday? No veneration of the Cross on Good Friday? No Easter Vigil?

    1. We'd still have the Holy Week and Triduum liturgies even without Egeria, because she didn't invent them -- she merely described what already existed. Had she not written about them, they still would have been practiced, year-in, year-out, in the life of the Church.

      1. As a liturgical theologian, and a lifelong Lutheran, I have to say that my tradition did NOT practice the entire Holy Week liturgies, consistently until the liturgical renewal of the late 20th century. The writings of Egeria have helped us to understand that the practices were developed early in the life of the church and that the proposed "new liturgies of the Triduum" were not just invented by post Vatican II liturgists, nor were they "Catholic" but rather "catholic". I am deeply moved by the realization that we have been practicing these liturgies and ordos from the early days, and that they continue to have meaning and contribute to the mystogogy of today. I also love the way they can open us to the ecumenical understanding of liturgy and the formative power of consistent-though-contextualized liturgical practice. I love Hildegard's music; I am transformed by the evidence provided for us by Egeria. Thank you for giving us the choice and telling us of her contributions to the faith.

  3. This maybe the most agonizing matchup thus far - at least for me. I was all set to vote for Hildegarde and then I read about Egeria. Now I am firmly undecided.

    1. I agree. I am impressed by both women. I voted for in the end since I am a physician. 🙂

    2. Agonizing choice is right! I was all set to vote for hildegard, and then ... this to me previously unknown woman... Where can I learn more about her?

    3. Agreed - I am torn. This is an "unfair" match up. Guess I will need to wait for a vision to lead me to my vote.

    4. Sounds like a left brain/rain brain inner argument is going on here that may be the results of an SEC plot to experiment with a new schizophrenic dimension of Lent "madness." Beware people.

    5. Two wonderful women who each left us with so much history in their own way. Tough to decide who to vote for!

  4. Although I voted for Hildegard, I am fascinated by Egeria. I would like to learn more about her.

  5. Egeria, because she taught us so much about Holy Week practices. Found her to be fascinating.

    1. I didn't think about that, without Egeria there would be no Lent Madness! But I voted for Hildegard and have been a lurker until now.

  6. *Apologies for the 'e' I added to St. Hildegard's name. I work with a Hildegarde and autocorrect took over.

  7. This ought to be very close as both women are great heroines. I voted for Egeria, because like her I am a pilgrim in my retirement.

    For some reason I am no longer getting automatic e mails from lent madness. I have subscribed again, but am not getting the mail. Help, I can't find a place on the web site to contact the Supreme whatever's.

    1. I had that problem with another blog I follow. It wouldn't send to me no matter what. My email was originally @netscape which then was bought out by @aol and I noticed that also sometimes there's @aim. So I can use any of the 3 and get my emails. So I resigned up with the one and they are coming to my box again. You might see if you have a similar option.

    2. Check your "junk" file, too. sometimes my email program will randomly decide that people or organizations from whom I've been receiving emails for years are now junk. As if!

    1. There are good liturgical reasons to go with Hildegard, too! Her theology of music and the the connection between the Benedictine "Opus Dei" (the Divine Office of sung prayer) and the "Opus Dei" as the foreordained "Work of God" of creation is a deep hallmark of her perspective. Music, for her, is the natural and harmonious language of Creation (and thus also the Word which God spoke [or rather, sung!] to bring Creation into being). Music for her is the language of the angels, the original human speech that had as its end and object the praise of God, its source and summit.

      Moreover, she understood music to be almost a sacrament, and one that she and her nuns could themselves enact! In singing for the Lord, adorned as his Brides, they became themselves actors in the divine drama, feminine agents of divine power. Indeed, they literally acted out those roles when they performed as the various Virtutes—not just virtues, but emanations of divine power working within the world—in the sung morality play, "Ordo Virtutum," that Hildegard composed for them. Hildegard understood the monastic liturgy of the hours to channel the perfection of divine grace from the heavenly choirs down to the Church's choirs of virgins, where they reflected the symphony in the blessed joy of song.

      (I've written more on this in my 2013 article, "'Imago expandit splendorem suum': Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript," available online: )

      1. Thanks so much for your reply, Nathaniel, highlighting Hildegard's musical output. While I'm a great fan of Lenten Madness and the education it gives us about various saints, I think one sentence about Hildegard's music is a large omission.

  8. Got to go with Hildegard. My maternal grandmother Hilda Flanigan was born on her feast day. She always hated her name,

  9. This clinched it for me: "woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman." Need I say more?!

    1. That's what the tipping point was for me too. I was ready to vote for Egeria, a new saint to me, as I was very impressed with her story. But then I read that wonderful feminist 'barb' of Hildegard's, and my vote went to her--an old favorite.

  10. It's worth mentioning that Hildegard was often consulted by the Holy Roman Emporer and other powerful men for her wisdom. She is a saint I keep in my pocket to remind me of all the things women can accomplish in a man's world. That said, I voted for Egeria because I had never heard of her gifts to our liturgy. It echoes forward to all the wonderful work people are doing to keep it alive, fresh, and the "work of the people."

  11. this was an unfairly difficult choice. both are valuable contributors to the growth of the church. Hildegard is better known because of an eclectic curiosity and immense intelligence. her struggle with her vision shows a humanity that binds me to her,; she gets my vote.

  12. You have decided that this year you will stretch the hearts and minds of those of us who love Lent Madness to a maddening level. I can't wait to see what other impossible matchups you have in store for us. Will vote on this one eventually maybe if I can see a light. Thanks for all your hard work!!!! 🙂

    1. Yes! That! Pretty much every match-up has been agonising for me. Which is good... but agonising. Also means I am reading a *lot* of the comments this go round; I love seeing the thoughts of others.

  13. I wish there was a way to "like" comments.

    My vote is for Hildegard, although I did enjoy learning about Egeria. I love that H described herself as "a feather on the breath of God."

    1. I wish there was a way to "like" comments, too!

      I'm agreeing with everyone who has found this pair an extremely difficult choice.
      Since Hildegard already has been discovered and celebrated by the world, after much internal debate, I finally decided to vote for Egeria... but would have voted for Hildegard in almost any other match-up!

  14. I'm glad I have a day to consider this. I always wondered from where our information about the early practices came. Egeria was/is a treasure! But then the music and the knowledge and the grace and the total Hildegard is a treasure of another sort. One is newly found by me, the other I've known for some time — oh what to do and who to do it for. Thoughtful pondering over this one.

    1. Ah, for those in the antipodes, by the time I get up and do my prayers etc, the voting time is almost done. Maybe I should log in the night before... but then I would get no sleep agonising about the choices. It's autumn down here.

  15. O, SEC, thou art cruel indeed today, to present us with such a difficult choice. I know not how to cast my vote; for lo, though I have long been a fan of Hildegard, I find Egeria to be compelling as well. Woe is me. Woe, woe, woe.

  16. Definitely a tough match up. I didn't know much about Egeria so I voted for her. But in honor of Hildegard, I'm off to listen to her music!

  17. Hildegard's music is what first drew me to this extraordinary woman. Having read everything I could find about her and listening to her music led me to do a quiet day in her honor during Lent several years ago. It was a joy to see the response of the women to the life of this blessed woman.

  18. It was so hard to decide this morning. They are both fascinating women, and I am definitely going to look into Egeria's writings.

  19. I do not accept the results of the previous vote, allegedly in favor of Kemper. I assume it is a typo and will put Kempe's name as winner on the Trinity Parish bracket, until Bernard Mizecki wins in the Sweet 16.

    1. What a good idea. I too shall assume Margery won. I think people took against her unfairly.

  20. Egeria is not well known yet her contributions to the church and to the world are profound. I vote for Egeria to fit her up so others may learn about her and learn of her example of devoted pilgrimage and service. I love Lent Madness because it helps us learn about some of the lesser know saints as well as more about the well known ones. Good Holy Fun!

    1. I had the same thoughts, Debbie. Was fascinated by Egeria, a woman of whom I had not previously heart. I figured I'd be voting for Hildy, because I love her chants (listen to them in the car sometimes) but I went with Egeria.

      1. I agree with you both. And one thought strikes me that where would Hildegard be without the likes of Egeria before?
        I also tried a little research on Eg. and came up with a translation of her travels and liturgical observations. It makes for wonderful reading. "The Pilgrimage of Egeria"

    2. Yes. I'd never heard of Egeria before today. I really admire people who have the wits to record what's going on in the world at large during their own lifetimes -- from Egeria to "Notes From the Warsaw Ghetto" to Studs Terkel's oral history books. So I'm going with Egeria.

      But it was a very tough choice.

  21. For me this has been the perfect example of how LM is supposed to work. I knew about and admired Hildegard and expected to vote for her against whoever this Egeria was, and then after finding that out voted for Egeria. I also know Hildegard better and admire her all the more as well.

    I will say this is the closest I have come to casting an illegal second vote for the opponent from another computer. O Supremes, lead us not into temptation!

  22. This was the hardest decision so far. I had to think long and hard to make a decision, but in the end Egeria won my vote.

  23. I agree with those comments that Egeria was so very practical, which will always get my vote. But this was a very hard choice today. I also voted for Egeria because I've never heard of her!

  24. It is so rare to have a woman's voice speaking to us from the 4th century, and the account Egeria gives of early Christian worship is priceless. Hildegard is priceless as well, but Egeria has my vote today.

  25. This is a particularly difficult vote since I believe both women deserve a chance to move on. Some of the match-ups have been extremely one-sided; this one may be a nail-biter to the end.
    I am sorry to see some of the more unsettling women (such as Kempe) eliminated. Especially since stories of women tend to be more incomplete and influenced by cultural attitudes in the telling (women who didn't behave "appropriately" tend to get critical press!)
    This whole process has been fascinating, though, and I have learned about some interesting folks.

  26. Egeria - for being practical, for traveling, her eye for detail .. I think I would have loved accompanying her.