Elizabeth the New Martyr vs. Hildegard of Bingen

In case you lost track (again?), today is FRIDAY. The only thing that really means is that this is the final Lent Madness battle of the week! We finish things up with Elizabeth the New Martyr facing Hildegard of Bingen for a shot at Brother Lawrence, one of the Cinderellas of Lent Madness 2020.

Yesterday, Joanna the Myrrhbearer slipped past Bartimaeus 65% to 35% She'll face Joseph in the Elate Eight.

We'll be back first thing Monday morning for the last matchup of the Saintly Sixteen as Elizabeth Fry and Clare of Assisi vie for the final spot in the Elate Eight. Stay safe out there, everyone, and go vote!

Elizabeth the New Martyr

Elizabeth Fyodorovna was no stranger to tragedy. In tragedy she bears witness.

In the wake of her husband’s assassination, it is reported that she requested to the Czar that the murderer not be condemned to death. When the Czar refused, Elizabeth went to visit and pray with the man in prison where he awaited his sentence. This gesture of forgiveness is also seen in the cross she set up as a memorial to her husband. Taking a cue from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, the cross was inscribed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

After her husband’s death, she divested herself entirely of her wealth, with much of it going to charities. She did not even keep her wedding ring. After his death the only jewelry she ever wore was a simple wooden cross suspended by a white ribbon. She abandoned a life of wealth and prestige to go, in her words, “into the greater world, the world of the poor and afflicted.”

She established the Mary and Martha Home because the two women together embodied faithful discipleship. Attention and devotion to Christ would always be accompanied by service to the community, especially to those who are most vulnerable. She described the work of the convent as follows: “We read the newspapers here, we keep track of events and we receive and consult with people in active life. We are Marys, but we are Marthas as well.”

Elizabeth worked tirelessly. In addition to the duties of running the convent, she would regularly visit the houses that she founded for people sick with tuberculosis and be present with those who were ill. One of her biographers wrote that “she never once flinched from their embraces.”

When the revolution started, Elizabeth hoped it would refine her family and bring them nearer to God. When the revolutionaries came to arrest her in her convent she is reported to have calmly replied, “If you want to arrest me I shall have to go with you, of course. But I have a rule that before I leave the convent for any purpose I always go into the church and pray. Come with me into the church, and after I have prayed I will go with you.”

Elizabeth was ultimately exiled and then murdered with other members of the royal family. Buried alive in an abandoned mineshaft, until the end she continued as Mary, singing hymns to God and as Martha, tending to the wounds of those with her.

David Creech

Hildegard of Bingen

Terra viriditatem sudat / The earth sweats greenness. -- Hildegard of Bingen

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, and as many of us self isolate in our homes and apartments for fear of catching and spreading this virus, I’m struck by the relevance of Hildegard of Bignen’s writings in science and medicine. Primarily across two works, Physica and Causae et Curae, Hildegard drew from her experience shuttling between her monastery’s herbal garden and infirmary, ultimately sharing insights on human health and flourishing that continue to fascinate medievalists and even a few medical doctors today. 

One of Hildegard’s unique contributions to medicine and theology is her use of the term ‘viriditas’ which is roughly translated as greenness, vitality, freshness and new life. For Hildegard, this was both a medical and theological term. Observing the way that the land around her couldn’t help but ‘sweat greeness’ and new life, she connected this to the ‘new life’ of human health and flourishing that was to be found in Christ. There is a medieval inevitability to this vision. For Hildegard, it’s clear that God desires all creation to flourish, and the sending of God’s Son is part of this greening of all creation. Human health and vitality -- our own version of greenness -- is an outcome of reconnecting to God’s desire for all creation. 

As exalted as this theological vision is, Hildegard was also practical in laying out her medical insights. Famously, Hildegard drew a connection between gardening and medicine, arguing in Causae et Curae that one could attend to and manipulate the humors of the body in the same way an excellent gardener might manipulate elements of a garden to achieve a vibrant row of herbs. Again, Hildegard was linking the garden to the infirmary, connecting human flourishing to the flourishing of the medicinal herbs she and her fellow nuns in the monastery were growing. And while today we’d likely object to cures based in humoral theory, Hildegard is credited with observing how human health is the outcome of many elements that exist in complex, dynamic relationships with one another.

And it’s these dynamic relationships that I am thinking about today as many of us ‘shelter in place’ so as to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For the first time in over a century, love of neighbor demands that as many of us self isolate as possible so as to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19. For me this has resulted in a unique opportunity to reflect on what I need for flourishing. Not much in the way of things, as it turns out, except that I’m finding I do need as much nature as possible. 

With her constant shuttling between the garden and infirmary, I suspect Hildegard of Bignen wouldn’t be surprised to hear that my health is requiring me to take long, socially-distant walks in the park with my dog. I suspect she also wouldn’t be very surprised by my recent insistence on cooking all meals because of the way it puts me in physical contact with the colors and scents of fresh vegetables. ‘The earth sweats greenness’ Hildegard observed, and I’m more keenly aware now than ever how our spiritual and physical flourishing requires us to reconnect with that.

--Miguel Escobar

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83 comments on “Elizabeth the New Martyr vs. Hildegard of Bingen”

  1. H ildegard. A healer using herbs. An artist. A composer. This feels timely to me.
    Vote Hildegard!

  2. My vote is for these two celebrity bloggers to advance to the Elate 8. Both these write-ups today are brilliant. The key move that both bloggers made was to unite the vita activa with the vita contemplativa. David's focus on forgiveness on behalf of Elizabeth was inspired; she becomes more than the "nice rich lady" of round one. She is truly a martyr and a beautiful, self-giving person. (And yes, as one commenter pointed out in round one, she has the best complexion of all the saints; and her gowns are gorgeous.) Miguel's emphasis on the "greening of creation" is a masterful touch given the peril we all presently face. I went out onto my deck yesterday at sunset to clap for the world's healthcare workers, as people all over the globe are doing together. Only my neighbor's chickens saw me--and God. I cannot help but point out that the root of "viriditas" is "vir"--maleness, masculinity, puissance, potency. So in advancing the greening of creation, we unite masculine and feminine in ourselves. Bravi, bloggers. I wholeheartedly vote for both of you, just as soon as Tim and Scott fix the darn toggle feature on the voting buttons.

    1. Well said, St. Cecilia! I feel that today's Super PAC authors connected their saints to my existence making my faith ever more present in my day.
      Joining you in clapping!

    2. Wow, you've done it again, Celia, blown me away with your insights. AsI read each description, I gained insight and respect for each Saint. I also felt I was getting to know better two of the bloggers. I was particularly touched by Miguel's personal sharing. In the end I decided to vote for Hildegard since her impact on us today seems larger to me. But as I've learned about Elizabeth, each round I've come to appreciate her more (I do wonder how we know she sang after being buried alive), and today's "bio" particularly brought her to life as an individual. 32 deserving saints, yet our duty is to choose between them 2 by 2 by 2.

      1. Richard, I read that Elizabeth was thrown into a mine shaft, and that "they" could hear singing coming from the mine shaft. I voted for Elizabeth. She and her family met horrible ends, despite their position and wealth.

    3. I’m so glad you said this, St Celia! I’ve been really wowed by all the bloggers this year. What a great gift in a hard time.

    4. Also, on "Bosom Buddies" Peter Scolari's alter ego was named Hildegard. And this fact has no influence on my vote.

    5. St. Celia. Thank your for these glorious insights. You have lifted me up after a difficult week struggling to work from home. Blessed be. I am truly confounded about my choice.

  3. I voted for Hildegarde: this week a shout out to Norman Keil Wholesale Nurseries of St James, NY (Suffolk County -hard hit covid 19) who went house curbside to house curbside in town giving away flats of Pansies. Normans Sr and Jr included a letter of well wishes. These happy, bright flowers are now in yards and planters all over town. Neighbors shout a greeting while walking to those working in their yards.
    Greenness, beauty , vitality, and freshness. Surely this act of kindness will help to boost our immune systems in these times and we will flourish as the Lord wants us to.

    1. Margaret -- what a wonderful thing for the Normans to do! I don't have the actual pansies, but your comment has certainly brightened my day!

    2. And his sidekick in the advertising business none other than Tom Hanks who is recovering from a coronavirus infection alongside his wife. Bosom Buddies is a show we should binge now for a well deserved laugh and respite from our present trials. Thank you for reminding us of Hilde, Alan!

    3. I applaud the Normans. I have noticed that walkers keep a distance and look away so I now greet each of them and am rewarded with a smile. I will appreciate the closeness of community when it returns.

    1. Well said, Lee!

      But having written a paper from the standpoint of a musician on Hildegard (or one of the alternate renderings of her name), as a composer both of her time and centuries before her time (particularly as a woman -- talk about a male-dominated field!), she must get my vote.

    2. Agreed, Lee. I thought for sure that I would vote for Hildegard, but when I read again that Elizabeth forgave her husband's murderer and visited him in prison, it moved me more deeply this time. Since Jesus' command that we love our enemies is the hardest one for me, I voted for one who really practiced what Jesus preached.

  4. I'm greatly in favour of the greening of all creation, so Hildegard gets my vote.

  5. This was again a hard choice. In the end of I voted for Elizabeth, as I had recently read an historical novel about the Russian royal family. She was one of the family who cared about the poor.

  6. I know Hildegarde will prevail today and perhaps rightly so. I agree that both celebrity bloggers today wrote moving and inspiring reflections. But I chose Elizabeth because one thing about her moved me greatly: Her understanding of Martha and Mary as united in faithful discipleship, as a cooperative team, not as opponents or adversaries. I loved it when Martha won the Golden Halo last year so I am somewhat biased - I’ve always thought she got a raw deal from the Gospel writer!
    As for knowing that Elizabeth sang while dying, my guess is that the murderers who threw their victims into that mineshaft stuck around to make sure they had accomplished their heinous task and were witnesses to the final moments of their victims.

    1. I agree whole heartily with your comments, I do understand the need of ‘ nature’ in all our lives! They are the LUNGS, of this our earth! I also plant petunias, love those happy faces the first we see in the early spring! But, what Elizabeth did for mankind is what our Father has asked of us, to Keep our Faith in Him and His works! This pass spring and summer 2019 my husband and I took in many of WIFF (Windsor International Film Festival) and watched a stunning INTO THE TREES, it showed how much we need our forests all over this world! The destruction in the Amazon had just happened and probably still,happens in all over our world! We need to go into the trees and breathe in their fresh healing aroma, (that we are not even aware of) ! What we all can do is to plant a tree or trees if you have the space, even on your little balconies will help heal this plant of this Covid19! BUT, with all of the above, my VOTE is for Elizabeth!

  7. I love Hildegard, and there's no doubt in my mind that climate change has contributed to this plague, but Elizabeth's work in the face of powers and principalities gets my vote today.

  8. This has been a difficult Lent, and I am still struggling with the closure of the church building. It seems a bittersweet irony that we are enjoying such a beautiful, sunny, verdant spring in this corner of England. The greening of the earth is lifting my heart each day, and so my vote goes to Hildegard for the connections that she made between our health and the health of the world around us.

  9. Hildegard gets my vote today so relevant to what our country and the world is experiencing today!God's Love and Blessings for all!

  10. I've been thinking of Hildegard a lot this week, as I face who-knows-how-long without communion. I can at least still sing.

  11. I'm voting today for Hildegard, because her observation "the earth sweats greenness" reminds me of the line G. M. Hopkins' poem, "God's Grandeur," "There lives the dearest freshness deep down things." We can use some hope in these times.
    Elizabeth is also deserving for her compassion and capacity for forgiveness. All honor to her as well as Hildegard.

  12. I admire Elizabeth and am glad to know her story - and the relevance of her tending to people with highly contagious conditions is not lost on me, but I vote most passionately for Hildegard. During this time of self quarantine (with a cough! Probably a cold but nerve wracking!) “Viriditas” has been my mantra - I picture this emblazoned on the wall above my bed and think of Hildegard as I walk in my garden to get some air and see the beginning of new life sprouting.
    Hildegard is a saint for this time if ever there was one.

  13. Spring comes late here in New England, but the early signs are everywhere as we await the coming of viriditas. At the same time we are praying especially for the greenness of health and healing, and giving special thanks for the ministries of those skilled in medicine, who serve us at great danger to their own health. Hildegard seems to me to be especially a saint for this moment, but Elizabeth’s unflinching dedication deserves also to be lifted up and celebrated. I’ve been intending to vote for Hildegard; but as I write these words my finger wavers, and I’m going to defer voting to later in the day.

  14. Here’s to Hildegard, abbess of Bingen;
    From her pen the works never stopped springen:
    Mystic musings sublime,
    Music, herb lore and rhyme —
    Her Elation today I am singen.

    1. Thank you, John!
      When this is all over, can you web-publish a collection of all your limericks on the saints?

  15. Difficult decision today. Wish they had been in different brackets so they both could advance

  16. Elizabeth for me. She forgave her husband's murderer and prayed with him, gave away all wealth, and inspired so many to work for the poor and most vulnerable, but her faith is so strong. She prayed and trusted and never kept away from the sick - she shared her human touch which is the closest we can give to God's touch. As we are faced with an inkling of what it means to be without God given human touch she was a Mary and a Martha -but mostly a direct representative of God's work thru us humans.

  17. I find the idea that Elizabeth's concept of Mary and Martha as a "both and.." instead of and "either or.." has captured my heart. I have always known that we should have characteristics of both Mary and Martha, but still have put myself (and others) into one category or the other. I like Hildegard because we had a music director at our church who was a Medieval historian/musician. She first introduced me to Hildegard and her music. But today I am captured by Elizabeth.

  18. Another Liz Bites the Dust. A Valiant Effort, Indeed. I'm going to try and fit Hildy into my next CV19 post but we're covering hermits so Hildy might have to wait a bit! "The earth sweats green...." Beautiful. It does!

  19. I love everything about Hildegard! However, the courage - the incredible Martha/ Mary witness of Elizabeth - and the fact that my 102 year old mom shares her name gave Elizabeth my vote.

  20. Having spent enough time 1.5 miles under mountain in Coal Mine Shafts, (Brownies Creek mine near , Corbin, KY), thecking roof bolts in cave-in areas for more collapse potential, I had to vote for anyone who died as a martyr in a Soviet mine. Tough choice, tho. Hildegard is wonderful.

  21. Medievalist and retired teacher though I am, I voted for Elizabeth, who in my opinion got down to the first century basics!

  22. How could I vote against a martyr! Horrible choice to have to make. But I am a physician and a priests, doing studies on physician/clergy, and Hildegard is my favorite.

  23. Oh dear, Oh dear! The writers have inspired and caused me to be challenged by both women. Time to plan the herb garden I have wanted to start, and time to reconsider the use of my time and talents as a retired teacher. Maybe, like a fond and loving priest once suggested, Lent is truly a time to take on something more than to give up something . Maybe, in the taking on of a task for God, we give up nothing more than a frivolous and useless thought of personal pleasure and gain the joy of greening a small corner of the world and the lives of those we touch.

  24. Hildegard has long been a favorite of mine - some of my graduate work, many years ago, focused on women composers, and although it's not mentioned here, the chants she wrote are soaring and beautiful. But I did have to think about Elizabeth the Martyr more than I would have initially thought, because of David Creech's persuasive description of her embracing both Mary and Martha, something I strive to do. I have been gladdened to learn about Elizabeth.

  25. Hildegard von Bingen, musician and physician, expert in both my major interests! I majored in voice in college, became a clergy person, served as a hospital chaplain in my last appointment, and continue to pray and sing in retirement. My great-grandmother was an herb doctor; her husband was a singing-school teacher. I honor them both by voting for Hildegard.