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


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364 comments on “Egeria vs. Hildegard”

  1. Had to vote for Egeria, having just visited the Holy Land and learned about her contributions. A tough choice today!

  2. I can't deny both were influential. I think I'll go with Hildegard, since her influence went beyond the church and into medicine.

  3. As a dietitian, I must vote for a woman who was an early herbalist and nutritionist. Anyone who has a category of foods named "foods of joy" and who encourages us to savor and respect our foods as divine gifts has my vote. If only the SEC had delayed this match up until March 10, National Dietitians Day!

  4. This one is going to be tight. I too went in thinking Hildegard all the way, but Egeria is more than worthy for the nod, upon reflection. That said, being a singer with a penchant for the mystical, I went down the HoB lane...but this one was particularly cruel.

  5. Indeed, the SEC set this pairing to to make us think about the role of women throughout our ecclesiastical history (perhaps). Hildegard has long been a favorite. Her writings, music, and poetry still resonate nearly a thousand years later! She was even named a doctor of the church in 2012. Definitely - Hildegard.

  6. This match up is the the toughest one for me yet, what great rolls each woman has played in the life of the church and how very important their parts are.....what to do what to do.

  7. I was confident that Hildegarde would beat the pants off of Egeria, and was surprised to find it's pretty much neck-and-neck, with Egeria slightly in the lead at this early hour.

  8. Just because I see feminism as a major schism in the Chruch today, I'll always vote for the saints that formed our foundation and celebrate its rich tradition of unity through Christ. Hence it's Ergie for me.

  9. This is a great exercise and learning opportunity, but I noticed many long years ago that 80% of the saints are male, no doubt reflecting the greater saintliness of men. ; ) Also, the male saints are more swashbuckling, so they tend to stand out. As I look around the world today, I think we could use a few more of those quiet women (and men).

  10. Anticipating my favorite service of the entire church year, the Great Vigil of Easter, no other choice but Egeria!

    1. I first came across Egeria when I was writing a paper on the Exultet for school a few years ago. I'm so glad the church has seen fit to come back around to some of the deeply meaningful ancient practices like the Easter Vigil. So I voted for Egeria, because I would love to see her become more well known! I greatly admire Hildegard, and felt terrible voting against her, but she is already so well-known and beloved that I hope she won't mind sharing the glory!

      1. I agree. Hildegard is well-known and left us many gifts ~ but the lesser-known Egeria, through her quiet, persistent, and faithful work, has gifted us with some of the church's most profound liturgies!

  11. In studying for a masters in liturgical arts I became acquainted with Egeria. So much of what we know about early liturgical practice in the church comes from her writings. The baptismal ritual that I use was developed based upon her diaries. Her influence on modern liturgy is unknown to most worshippers but is profound and lasting.

  12. I've been waiting to vote for Hildegard since the Saintly competitors were announced. She's a favorite of mine. I am intrigued by Egeria, so if the saint of my heart loses this battle, it won't be a total loss.

  13. Regardless of which woman I ultimately vote for - need lots of time to discern that choice - Egeria wins the Collect comparison.

    I also support adding the ability to "like" comments.

  14. Very tough choice, since I am a liturgist and a singer. Had to go with H., but wish I didn't have to make the choice! I think a match up like this doesn't belong in the first round...

    1. Why, why are the choices this year so tough? As a German scholar who spent 2 years studying in Germany and being familiar with Hildegard, I originally chose her. But, as a deacon who struggles through the Exsultet and all the prayer chants during Holy Week, I just had to vote for Egeria.

  15. Two very strong contenders. Appropriately selected as we prepare to celebrate International Women's Day on Sunday. Voted for Hildegarde with a strong feeling for Egeria. Tough decision.

  16. Feel I have to go with Egeria as she set the church services I love, Holy week, the procesion of the Palms on Palm Sunday and the Easter Vigil. My favorite time of the year!

  17. Golly.
    I totally expected to vote for Hildy, as she is so beloved and her gifts to us so rich...
    but honestly, I didn't know much about Egeria, and her bio today won me over.

    Travel is still challenging in those areas~ but to imagine doing that in the 300's?
    UNimaginable. What a gift to us to have her insights.
    Hildegarde knows she is beloved, so I thought to be generous, we could spare some love for Egeria today.

  18. While I find Hildagard's life and contributions incredibly inspiring, Egeria's story moved me to tears. To think that her boldness and determination to go back to the fountain head of our faith has provided such enduring and priceless gifts for generations since, just gives me chills. Her story affirms and explains a tangible connection with our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith. I am so grateful to learn about these two amazing women, but so vexed to have to choose between them.

  19. This was a really really hard choice. I'm a journalist (a newspaper reporter but that title has gone the way of buggy whip maker) and they were both writers, reporters. But I voted for Egeria, more fully a reporter. Would like to cast an illegal second vote--but I didn't, I didn't. Don't yell at me.

  20. For those who might like to explore Hildegard's liturgical music more fully, the International Society for Hildegard von Bingen Studies is currently producing an online edition of her musical corpus. So far, we have 31 of her compositions fully posted, with texts, translations, recordings, transcriptions of the musical notation, and commentaries:

  21. One of my music history profs recorded some of Hildegard's music way back in the 70s which was way before she became popular. I am leaning a bit for her.

  22. A very tough decision for me, but I have to go with Hildegard. As a student of preaching, I have tried to track how women have found their voices by ascribing their ideas and words to the a Holy Spirit, or just spirits (see Ann Braude, "Radical Spirits", about women spiritualists speaking while in a trance--a way to speak without asserting a woman's right to do so). Hildegard had a momentous intellect, and even she had to give the credit to the Spirit. Ummm...but perhaps more of the time the rest of us should?

  23. This may be the first coin-toss vote for me! I'd never heard of Egeria and assumed I'd vote for H. However, E probably deserves more press than she's gotten. Two real trailblazers and role models for the women of their times--and ours.
    Can't vote yet. So far, I've only missed on one of the winners; this may turn out to be the second!

  24. You have no mercy! I was all set to vote for Hildegard. I have long loved her connection with nature, and who among us can't identify with someone who resisted God's direction, who doubted her visions? To have done all that she did as a self-taught person is impressive, even by today's standards.

    But then you give us Egeria, whose name I had never heard, yet who has now captured my imagination. How could I not vote for the one who recorded the earliest liturgical practices? I love our liturgy so much, and I especially treasure the Great Vigil, the lighting of the first fire - the moving celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord. So I embrace - and cast my vote for - Egeria, but oh, how I wish I could vote for both!

  25. My aunt was nothing like her namesake, but I voted for Hildegard anyway for the maddest of reasons: familiarity through culture. (If the Irish can do it, then so can us Germans.) I love the collect for Egeria and want to hear more about her, so I actually hope she wins this match!

  26. Hildegard is so well known and has many publicly acclaimed works that it's tempting to vote for her. I learned about Egeria a few years ago when Prf. Ruth Meyers came to my church and did a Lenten Series on Holy Week. I was fascinated to learn that much of what we know of early church liturgical practice, came from this woman's writings! Early church woman verses medieval church woman, this one was harder for me than others....Hmmm....Got to go with Egeria!