Hildegard of Bingen vs. Romanos the Melodist

Only in Lent Madness will you find a 12th century mystic facing off against a 6th century hymn writer. Well, maybe you can find a matchup between the likes of Hildegard of Bingen and Romanos the Melodist elsewhere in the world. But we're dubious.

In yesterday's Biblical battle, Bartimaeus saw his way past Jude 54% to 46%. He'll face the winner of Joanna the Myrrhbearer vs. Junia in the Saintly Sixteen.

Did you know that at the 2020 Rooted in Jesus conference in Atlanta, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry made his Lent Madness predictions? You can hear what he had to say as part of his Way of Love podcast in his conversation with Lent Madness creator Tim Schenck by clicking here. While we encourage you to listen to the entire 17 1/2 minutes, the Lent Madness conversation starts at minute 10.

Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard von BingenHildegard was born in 1098 in the Rhineland Valley and later wrote that she began experiencing visions of God as a child. When Hildegard was eight years old, her parents placed her under the care of Jutta, an anchoress, and she became part of a growing community of religious women attached to the male Benedictine monastery at Disibodenberg. Upon Jutta’s death in 1136, Hildegard was elected as magistra of the growing community of women, whereupon she pressed the head of the Benedictine monastery to allow her community to form a new monastery in Bingen. Despite initial objections, Hildegard ultimately founded St. Rupertsberg monastery in Bingen in 1150 and later a second monastery in Eibingen in 1165.

When Hildegard died in 1179, she left behind three volumes of visionary theology, including her most well-known theological work, Scivias, as well as soaring liturgical compositions and the morality play Ordo Virtutum. Her 400 letters represent one of the largest collections to survive from this period, and her other writings include sermons from four preaching tours, volumes on natural medicine derived from her gardening and healing practice, an invented language, gospel commentary, and many more minor works.

Reviewing the various short biographies on Hildegard, it is apparent that she had a gift for getting what she and her community needed despite the ecclesiastical restrictions of her time. When Hildegard asked for permission to found a monastery in Bingen, she had already laid the groundwork with the Archbishop of Mainz. Later, Hildegard became famous when a papal blessing for a portion of Scivias was construed as papal approval for the wide range of her theological work. Was this an accident or an example of being as wise as serpents, innocent as doves? Either way, it was a milestone in clearing the pathway for Hildegard to become a much sought-after theologian, spiritual advisor, and preacher across northern Europe.

Much more could be said about Hildegard, including her theological notion of viriditas or “greenness,” her understanding of medicine as a form of gardening, and the uniqueness of her liturgical music, but what stands out is her visionary leadership in a time when this was very difficult to achieve.

Collect for Hildegard
God of all times and seasons: Give us grace that we, after the example of your servant Hildegard, may both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of your creation, and show forth your glory in the world; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Miguel Escobar

Romanos the Melodist
RomanosSaint Romanos the Melodist wrote hymns during the sixth century, the golden age of Byzantine hymnography. Most biographical information about him comes from the Menaion, a liturgical book of fixed-date propers in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is believed to have been born to a Jewish family in Syria and was baptized Christian as a young boy. Later he was ordained a deacon in Beirut, then moved to Constantinople to serve as the sacristan at the Hagia Sophia.

The most important legend about Romanos revolves around a vision of Mary and is indeed the origin story for a whole category of music in the Eastern Orthodox church: the Kontakion. The story goes that Romanos began as a lousy singer and reader of the liturgy, and his fellow clergymen made fun of him. Once, after reading from the psalter, he was so ashamed that he put his head down and fell asleep in the church. Mary visited him in a dream and commanded him to eat a scroll she held in her hand. When he awoke, he went to the pulpit and chanted the hymn for which he is best known, the Kontakion of the Nativity, which is largely a dialogue between the Mother of God and the Magi. The beauty of his singing and the wisdom of the theological lyrics moved all.

Romanos wrote his hymns in Greek, and they are renowned for their linguistic beauty and sophisticated style. Although he is believed to have written more than a thousand hymns, only sixty to eighty are still in existence—and not all of those can be verified as his compositions. Rather than esoteric theologies, the hymns are in language accessible to the laity, and they address the pastoral concerns of the average person, making beautiful and accessible the mysteries of the Christian faith. They celebrate feasts and holy other days as well as saints’ lives and biblical themes. In addition to the nativity, his other notable works include the Last Judgment, the betrayal of Judas, and the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.

He is remembered on October 1 alongside the feast day of the Protection of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Church and is the patron saint of liturgical singers.

Collect for Romanos
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants like Romanus the Melodist who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Amber Belldene


Hildegard of Bingen vs. Romanos the Melodist

  • Hildegard of Bingen (75%, 5,769 Votes)
  • Romanos the Melodist (25%, 1,945 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,714

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Hildegard von Bingen: [Public domain]
Romanos: [Public domain]


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128 comments on “Hildegard of Bingen vs. Romanos the Melodist”

    1. I suppose you already know how many of us are loving your commentary. But I must add tp the praise, because you always crack me up!

  1. This is rather hard on Romanos, any other day he would be my choice, but Hildegard has so many attributes as well as being a powerful woman at a time when women were more usually seen as chattels, that she has won today.

    1. Veriditas! Greenness! Spring, spiritual and physical health! I would vote for Hildegard anytime but especially now! PS am playing a Hildegard CD as I type...guess this vote was a foregone conclusion...

      1. It's too bad they didn't go into detail. She was the first to document the use of Hops in brewing beer. Prior to that, a hops "tea" was used to clean out brewing equipment as it's a natural anti-septic/preservative. From what I've read she also scientifically described several types of V.D. Very interesting lady.

    2. I agree! Both of them contributed to liturgy and music in unique ways. I voted for Hildegard, but really wished that Romanos could have appeared on another day, so I could vote for him, too.

  2. Pecorino Romano's my favourite cheese. So, instead of an uppity woman, it's the melodist that gets my vote.

      1. Among many attributes, Hildegard could be considered uppity. Nasty, too. And she persisted!
        And she got my vote, although I do appreciate learning about Romanos, I too am ashamed of my singing voice.

        1. I know what you mean about being ashamed of one's singing voice, Betsy H. I maintain that I am the only person of Welsh heritage who cannot carry a tune - even in a bucket! (Where is Our Lady with that scroll when I need her?) However, I still raise my voice to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, because, as the old rhyme teaches us, "All God's children belong in the choir. Some sing low, some sing higher. Some sing like crows on a telephone wire, but all God's children belong in the choir."

          1. I have trouble carrying a tune also, but over the last few years decided to sing out anyway. Thank you for putting in the old rhyme. I don't think I have heard it quite this way. I am in sympathy with Ramanos! He will probably get my vote.

    1. Uppity? That's a biased description of behavior that would be socially acceptable in a man. Hildegard accomplished much, especially considering the time and place. Acknowledge it, but don't belittle it with a sexist comment.

  3. I am glad to meet Romanos and will try to find some of his hymn texts. I like that they make theology accessible to the laity. However, I had to vote for Hildegard, a female leader & preacher.

  4. This past Sunday I spotted a campaign sign in the garden of my church, and more signs decorated every table. The choir, our priest, and many of the congregation were wearing pins stating Vote for Hildegard of Bingen on March 11. These were the work of a member of the choir who was paying people $1 to wear the pin. I've had one of the signs hanging on my office wall all week and John - I just cast my vote for the composer of the offertory hymn we sang. Team Hildy all the way!

    1. [I hate to see "ballot stuffing" this early in the bracket (perhaps pray for people who wear the pins? offer them a vision? bake "Bingen buns" for them?), but I hope that translates to genuine enthusiasm for this great saint, and I hope she takes the hal0.]

    2. Nothing wrong with exhorting people to consider your chosen candidate, though I'm not sure about paying people to wear campaign signs. The problem is stuffing the ballot box which the Supreme Executive Committee seems fairly good at detecting.

  5. Natural medicine through gardening was part of Hildegards way of life as it should be for all of us .

  6. I find hymn singing to be one of the best ways to feel closer to God, and I have been a long-time fan of Hildegard's music, although I knew little about her other accomplishments. Now I'm interested in hearing some of Romanos' music as well. He seems to have been a very accomplished musician and used his compositions to reach out to the laity and share his love in Jesus. I was listening to a Bible study podcast last night about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, and they said she was a perfect model for the Jesus Movement Bishop Curry is so enthusiastic about. I place Romanos in that category, now, as well. But Hildegard's accomplishments are so diverse and so remarkable for a 12th Century woman, I have to vote for her. But I will be listening to beautiful music from both today.

    1. Yes! "Invented a language" tugged at me as well. (I'm trying to write one of my own for a fantasy fiction novel I've been working on near 2 decades! It's NOT easy! Mine probably won't compare with hers and certainly not with the ones my literary hero and linguist Tolkien wrote!)

  7. I just want to thank everyone for Lent Madness and the fun of reading these comments every day. I am already dreading when it is over! What a lovely way to begin each day, realizing what clouds of witnesses we really do have around us, and how blessed we are!

    1. Me, too, Anne - you said it much more eloquently than I. Thank you for this comment. Definitely “like!”

    2. It really is hard to struggle through when Lent Madness is over, and you expressed it beautifully, Anne!

  8. The voting will be lopsided in this match up, but both are deserving. The church is deeply in debt to music and the other fine arts for their singular ability to bring us to experience a loving realm of fullness and empathy beyond legal propositions and doctrine.

  9. A very tough choice for me, as my favorite aunt is Hildegard and my son and his girlfriend are devout Orthodox believers 🙂 I have admired and been inspired by Hildegard of Bingen for many years (drawn to study her life because of my aunt), but went with Romanos today, because he wrote "in language accessible to the laity," [addressing] "the pastoral concerns of the average person, making beautiful and accessible the mysteries of the Christian faith." I just added a lot of variety to my main, very eclectic Pandora station so I can more regularly hear the various Kontakia sung today (I love rock 'n' roll AND Orthodox chants!)

    1. Thank you for mentioning Pandora. I, too, love rock 'n' roll, as well as Kontakia, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and other varied music and musicians, so I'll add Romanos to my Pandora station.

  10. On another day I would have voted for Romanos -I can relate to being an enthusiastic yet lousy singer. But after hearing this years ago, it's always been Hildegarde for me: her O Viridissima Virga in a haunting, very modern setting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEhv3pUyy_s. She is supposed to have written some of the most difficult music for female voices.

    1. Just listened to the youtube link. Wow! I had heard of Hildegarde but not heard her music. Thank you for posting the link.

    2. I, too, can relate to not having the voice I'd like to have, since I have pretty good pitch but not much range. I pray that God will let allow me to become a coloratura in heaven. Still, I voted for Hildegard, but I'll add Romanos to my Pandora station. Kudos to him for writing music accessible to us regular folks.

    3. You caused me to go to the YouTube, lovely. I've subscribed so I will return to listen to more. Thank you.

  11. I admire them both but I've got to go with the female, who was active in her faith when it wasn't easy (in those times) for a female to be much of anything.

  12. HILDEGARD: she is one of the most amazing figures in all of church history. That she could flower as a woman and a person of some authority in the early medieval church, an abbess, and now a DOCTOR of the church, indicates her acumen and her deep spirituality. In one of her visions she saw the world as a hazelnut lying in the palm of her hand. In my mind this parallels the Magdalene holding the egg in her hand. Both miraculous images are earthy, concrete, and available to all. Hildegard demonstrates how mysticism has a political valence: she throve within a masculinist hierarchy. I am also fascinated by how early monasteries held so many children; Benedict's Rule includes chapters on managing the children who were left with them. Monasteries may have been secluded environments, but they were deeply connected to the world. Childrearing was only one of the tasks the brothers conducted as part of their heavenward journey. Later convents may have been more restrictive and world-renouncing, but Benedictine groups in this early medieval period were a form of city-building and community-gathering. I can't presently think of anyone as exciting as Hildegard until the Beguines and Beghards in the 14th century. Go Hildegard.

      1. [Does frantic Internet search.] Gasp! This is why the lack of an "edit" button is cruelty. Some of us ordinary bozos on this spinning bus can't go back and fix our errors. You know, I truly did "double check" that this morning (my body says it's still 4 am!) but clearly missed a key detail. You are correct, and this is why I will never be a Doctor of the Church. (Weeps into soiled halo.) Thanks, Richard. Good catch.

      2. Thanks for clearing that up. Found searching for “walnut visions” doesn’t do it but now I’ve got the right nut AND Saint. Still find it a good intersection between religion and science in light of the Big Bang theory

  13. Hildegarde would be a remarkable *person* in any century, not just the 12th abs bit just as a woman.

  14. Today was the hardest vote yet
    which saint should our allegiance get?
    we chose Hildegard as the winner
    at age eight she was a beginner
    with Jutta the sister
    Pope didn't resist her
    she wrote sermon and song
    she brought people along
    they all sang together
    in all kinds of weather
    and that's why we gave her our vote

    1. Hildegard sends you celestial thanks
      from the foremost of the heavenly ranks.
      She hopes you can hear the mellifluous spheres
      as they play you choral music throughout your years.
      Perhaps at school and work you hear angels touch the ondes
      and voices singing your names as you make your daily rounds.

  15. I voted Romanos. Like Moses, he offered his imperfect self to God’s work, in spite of his lack of talent. He worked and prayed. God loves all of us who are awkward and tone deaf, right along with our more gifted brothers and sisters.

    1. Maybe this year's final round will set the "awkward, tone-deaf" musician against the clumsy brother who broke all the dishes. Will that round honor all the ordinary bozos on this world's spinning bus, or will it be Abbott and Costello? We shall see!

      1. Oh, St. Celia I love reading your comments! And I would absolutely love it if the awkward, tone-deaf musician ended up against the clumsy dish-breaking brother!

  16. OK, so I went online and listened to a couple of hymns from each. Not what one would call an exhaustive comparison, but enough to get the feel of them both. As gorgeous as Hildegard's music is, Romanos seems to have written hymns that could comfortably be sung by a "regular" church choir and congregation, such as the one to which I belong.
    So Romanos it is, at least this time.

    1. This one convinces me. And Hildegard has been in Lent Madness before, and gotten fairly well along. At least some of her illustrated visions have been diagnosed by Oliver Sachs (has training) and my husband (suffers from) as migraine auras. But still, I would like to hear more about Romanos. Plus he's Lebanese, like a good friend of ours.

  17. This is my first time voting, and I was inspired to vote for Romanos. I admire Hildegaard and am awestruck by her accomplishments (and I have all her hit records!) but when we adopted our son Roman from Russia, I got to know Mother Anastasia, a nun at a tiny Russian Orthodox Monastery in Richford, VT. Mother Anastasia took a great interest in Roman. She told me the story of St. Romanos and gave Ro a cross and an icon of his name saint. In memory of St. Anastasia and her kindness - here's to St. Romanos.

  18. Romanos for the win. Music of liturgical grace speaks to all, sorry Hildy. Theology is for the learned primarily. Romanos speaks (and sings) to all.

  19. I'm an Orthodox Christian and St. Romanos is a very important saint in our life...music is the life of the Orthodox Church. The Kontakion is a very important hymn every Sunday and it changes seasonally. Too bad he is up against Hildegard but nonetheless, my vote is for our pal, St. Romanos!

  20. It's not fair to put two musicians/composers together in the first round! It was an easy decision for me, as I first met Hildegard in the course on Christian mysticism which was my first seminary course. I did not know at first that she was also a musician and a physician (using the products of her garden as medicine), as well as a preacher! When my husband and I were introduced to her music at a retreat, we immediately decided to add her to our list of composers for our "Three B's and Beyond" program (of music by composers whose surnames begin with B). He now plays one of her compositions on the organ. All that said, I could not vote for anyone pitted against her!

  21. The large volume of Hildegard's writings make her influence great, But I identify with Romanos, as my strong voice was off key and a detriment to worship until at age 22, I was befriended by a pianist who saw a tune in me. During the last 50 years, many people have expressed inspiration at my amateur but expressive voice.

  22. I know as a woman I should be voting for her, but, as a bad singer and love of music, I think you know where my vote went, too try to sing with full volume, with, I am sure is a distress to those around me, but that is the voice Gad gave to me and I will use it! I am I good, speaker, mostly impromptu. Subject,s of any level not needing to study for hours, just odd the top of my head. So to speak! While in High school I won many Oratory awards, mostly due to my impromptu subjects,!
    The secret, is to keep you finger where you are if, given a text, and to make eye co tact always with your listeners!
    Look out and pretend they are all naked and they are more embarrassment than you in the speaking pulpit! For those out there, never be afraid to use your voice when you are called!

  23. I thought I would choose Hildegard, for her many attributes and having been so influential in a period of time when women were so hugely discounted. However, I love Eastern Orthodox chant and the story of Romanos the Melodist really caught me by the heart! He likely has not chance against Hildegard, but I voted my heart this time, and not my head.