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“O Jewel Resplendent”: The Virgin Mary and Her Analogues in Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias

Nathaniel M. Campbell
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Union College, Barbourville, KY 40906, USA
Religions 2023, 14(3), 342;
Submission received: 6 February 2023 / Revised: 28 February 2023 / Accepted: 1 March 2023 / Published: 4 March 2023


Despite the lush visual imagery of the twenty-six visions that form the foundation of Hildegard of Bingen’s first work, Scivias, the physical person of the Virgin Mary appears only once, as the Queen of the heavenly symphony in the book’s final vision. The images that coalesce in the musical compositions dedicated to the Virgin in that final symphony, however, resonate throughout the rest of the work, revealing Mary’s constant background presence. Moreover, analogues of traditional Marian imagery in both the text and the illustrations Hildegard designed for the work allow us to see how the Virgin exemplifies the life of the virtues from which Hildegard constructs the City of God. Finally, connections between Scivias and Hildegard’s third work, Liber diuinorum operum, demonstrate that the Virgin Mary models the path of virginity that Hildegard holds up as the singular road to holy perfection for herself and the nuns under her care.

1. Introduction

St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) comes down to us as one of the most dynamic intellectual figures of the twelfth century. As a leader of religious women in the Rhineland, she authored extensive volumes of visionary theology; designed visual images for at least one of those; composed the largest corpus of liturgical music ascribed to a single author of the Middle Ages; wrote works in natural science and medicine; preached to religious communities throughout her region; and engaged in an extensive correspondence with people from all ranks of society, from popes and kings down to local monks and nuns. This extraordinary, interconnected body of work offers us a unique entry point into medieval intellectual life, at once rooted in tradition and recasting that tradition in startlingly innovative ways. Hildegard’s Mariology exemplifies this creative range.
The best overview of Hildegard’s “theology of the feminine” remains the foundational work of Newman (1997). She demonstrated that for Hildegard, the feminine can be understood at a cosmic level as the matrix for the manifestation of divinity into time. The Virgin Mary is the most concentrated focal point of a dynamic that stretches from the figure of eternal Wisdom ordering creation, through the fertile but fallen mother Eve, and then on to the Virgin Mother Church. Essential elements in this Mariology include the predestination of the Virgin (i.e., that God preordained from eternity that the Virgin would bear his Son); Mary’s restoration of Eve’s fallenness through the power of virginity; and the Virgin’s exemplarity for Ecclesia, the Church, who is a Mother to the faithful in baptism and bears for them the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.1
Most studies of Hildegard’s Mariology find their richest sources in her lyrics. She composed more liturgical music for the Virgin Mary than she did for any other single subject: sixteen pieces that survive with musical notation (including antiphons, responsories, a sequence, a song, an Alleluia verse, and a hymn), as well as several others that survive only in a textual miscellany (Hildegard of Bingen 1998). There is good reason for this: Hildegard’s thought reaches its densest and most sublime in her liturgical poetry, which summarizes her larger theological project. Hildegard’s music thus provides an entry point for exploring the deeper roots of her Mariology, not only through manifest images of the Virgin but also through what Denk (2021) has called “Mariological allusion.” Essentially, we can learn even more about Hildegard’s views on the Virgin Mary by tracing allusions, analogues, and motifs that make the Virgin present even in the absence of explicit invocations. Denk (2021) has done this principally through musicological allusions to the wider chant repertoire, a valuable line of inquiry pioneered in recent years by Bain (2021).
This study, too, will take two of Hildegard’s musical compositions for the Virgin as its springboard: the antiphon, O splendidissima gemma; and the responsory, O tu suavissima virga. The context in which we will explore their allusive power, however, will be the treatise in which Hildegard embedded them: her first work, Scivias, written 1142–1151. This book (whose title is shorthand for “Know the Ways of the Lord”) consists of twenty-six visions organized into three parts and serves as a kind of summa or “summary” of Christian theology. The first part surveys the order of creation and its fall, both of Lucifer and the angels and of humans in Adam and Eve. The second part articulates the order of redemption, with a focus on the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the sacraments of the Church. The third part, finally, dramatically retells the stories of the first two by setting them within a vast “Edifice of Salvation,” with the Virtues as our guide through salvation history and into eternity.
This study of Hildegard’s Scivias will proceed not only from its text,2 but also from its illustrations and music. Hildegard designed a detailed cycle of illustrations for a copy of Scivias produced in her monastery during the final decade of her life, which I will refer to as the Rupertsberg Scivias.3 Although no extant copies of Scivias include musical notation for the song cycle in the work’s final vision, the notation does survive in copies of Hildegard’s music in two other manuscripts.4 As Fassler (2022) has recently argued, Hildegard certainly intended that her nuns would know both the illustrations and the music when they engaged with the treatise.5 Meanwhile, as I have argued elsewhere (Campbell 2013, 2021), the illustrations produced about two decades later function as teaching tools to refine and highlight certain aspects of the text. Interpretation of the work is dynamically strongest when it attends to all three of its modes of communication: textual, musical, and visual.
Previous studies of the Virgin Mary’s place in Scivias have focused on the contrast with Eve (Garber 1998) and the place of the Annunciation as a model for authorizing female inspiration (Wain 2017). Wain (2017) offers a valuable critique of the ways in which many discussions of medieval Mariology rely too simplistically on the “Eva/Ave” trope to set up an oppositional parallel between Eve and Mary. She suggests that Hildegard instead sees the Virgin Mary as a model for her own intellectual fertility, positing the opening illustration of the Rupertsberg Scivias (which accompanies Hildegard’s preliminary Protestificatio) as an adapted Annunciation scene, with Hildegard gestating and giving birth to the work. Garber (1998), meanwhile, draws together the architectural metaphors found in several of Hildegard’s Marian lyrics with the imagery of the edifice of salvation in Part 3 of Scivias to suggest that Hildegard and her nuns shared with the Virgin a role as builders, not only of the physical monastery that they renewed at the Rupertsberg, but also of the life of monastic virtue. She contrasts the symbolic abstraction of Eve and Mary in much of Scivias with the more physically concrete personifications of the Virtues, who thus offer more relatable role models for Hildegard’s nuns.
The salient historiographical issue is the extent to which the Virgin Mary could serve as a viable role model for medieval women. It is sometimes suggested that she could displace the gross misogyny that often resulted from the identification of women as “daughters of Eve.” But how realistic would that displacement be if we recognize that the Virgin Mary was in many ways “an inaccessible paragon” (Wain 2017, p. 164)? In Hildegard’s hands especially, the Virgin takes on cosmic proportions. We do not find Hildegard meditating on the humanly relatable aspects of the Virgin’s life, such as her compassion or sorrow for her Son, that would become powerful models in later medieval spirituality. Instead, as we will see in this study, Mary appears as “majestic and impersonal” (Newman 1997, p. 166), a radiant light shining distantly, blinding in its brilliance like the sun. But this study will also show that Hildegard mediated the Virgin’s light through analogues of traditional Marian imagery. Building on the insights of Garber (1998) and Fassler (2022), it will reveal how the Virgin exemplifies the life of the virtues and through them could indeed serve as a model for Hildegard and the virgin nuns under her care. Again, in contrast to later medieval spiritual practices that encouraged interior meditation on details of the Virgin’s life—even when those details, such as her reading at the Annunciation,6 could authorize women’s learning and intellectual life—Hildegard’s focus for her nuns was on actively developing virtues that for her imitate the Virgin’s key role in salvation history. When her nuns would join their voices in the music of the liturgy, in particular, they would be transformed into resplendent gems, “living stones” to build up the heavenly Jerusalem and take their place as the perfected work of the Church.

2. The Jewel Resplendent: The Scivias Symphony and the Anthropology of Scivias 1.4

The key to understanding the place of the Virgin Mary within Scivias comes in the final vision (3.13), where she appears for the only time as a human figure, the Queen of the heavenly symphony. In overall structure, Scivias has moved from the beginning of the world (Part 1, Vision 2) through to its end (Part 3, Visions 11–12), and this final vision is set in eternity. Later medieval authors would think of this as the beatific vision, but for Hildegard, its primary quality is the praise of beatific song. She categorizes the “harmonious music-making” (in harmonia symphonizans) she hears by the addressee of each pair of songs (an antiphon and responsory), going down the ranks of heaven: the Virgin Mary, the angels, the patriarchs and prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, the confessors, and the virgins. As Fassler (2022) has demonstrated, Hildegard has organized this heavenly symphony according to the Matins liturgy for the Feast of All Saints (November 1), a liturgy that also informs Scivias’ opening vision and thus frames the work’s entire journey. All Saints was a special day for Hildegard, as it was on that day in 1112 that she and her companions were first dedicated to the religious life at the Disibodenberg; it is possible that she reserved that day every year for the dedication of new nuns to her monastery. The song cycle she composed for Scivias 3.13 synthesizes many of the themes of Scivias, amplifying the festal liturgy of All Saints into the pathway and goal for the virgin-nuns under her leadership and care.
The first two pieces are devoted to the Virgin Mary and, therefore, offer us interpretive keys for seeing her presence throughout the rest of the work. The first one is the antiphon O splendidissima gemma (Scivias 3.13.1a, p. 525):7
O splendidissima gemma
et serenum decus solis,
qui tibi infusus est,
fons saliens de corde Patris, quod est unicum
Verbum suum, per quod creauit mundi primam materiam, quam Eua turbauit;
hoc Verbum effabricauit tibi Pater
hominem, et ob hoc es tu illa lucida
materia per quam hoc ipsum Verbum exspirauit omnes
uirtutes, ut eduxit in prima materia omnes creaturas.
O jewel resplendent
and bright, clear beauty of the sun
that’s flooded into you—
the fountain leaping from the Father’s heart, which is his single
Word, by which he did create the primal matter of the world, which Eve disturbed.
This Word the Father made for you
into a man, and this is why you are that shining
matter, through which that Word has breathed forth all
the virtues, just as he brought forth all creation in primal matter.
The image of sunlight refracting through and reflecting off a gemstone becomes a lens through which Hildegard glimpses the entire sway of salvation history, stretching from the prima materia, the primordial material at the beginning of creation, through the disturbance of that matter in the Fall, and finally to the Virgin’s integral role in renewing that material as she bore the Son of God. Scripturally, the image aligns the Virgin with the twelve precious stones that adorn the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21, identifying her with the end of salvation history, the new heaven and new earth. In the context of Scivias, meanwhile, the gemstone takes us back to the beginning of the human journey and the anthropological vision of Scivias 1.4 (Figure 1), where the unfallen human body is described as a bejeweled tabernacle. This vision tells the story of a representative “human form,” the soul of an “Everyperson,” whose voice declares the ups and downs of its struggle against the temptations of the material world. It begins with the Everyperson’s conception, as their soul is quickened in the womb of their mother by the flow of divine energy, a “splendor like the dawn” from a golden quadrilateral allegorically identified as scientia Dei, “the Knowledge of God” (Scivias 1.4.9, p. 116). The iconography of this image in the Rupertsberg manuscript draws from common tropes for illustrating the nativity of Christ, with the recumbent mother in the same pose commonly used for the Virgin Mary in childbirth (Saurma-Jeltsch 1998, p. 66). The use of gold to illustrate the divine ensoulment adds further dimensions to the image, for the manuscript intentionally used gold to mark irruptions of divine activity into creation—we will see this gold return below in Scivias 2.1, aligned as here with the light of the dawn.8
Hildegard’s design of the image helps the viewer–reader to make a typological connection between the Everyperson’s lament for the weight of their ordeals in life in Scivias 1.4 (illustrated to the right of their conception, ordered from bottom to top) and their resolution in the opening lyric to the Virgin at the end of the work:
For I should have had a tabernacle adorned with five square gems more brilliant than the sun and stars, for the sun and stars that set would not have shone in it, but the glory of the angels; the topaz would have been its foundation and all the gems its structure, its staircases made of crystal and its courtyards paved with gold. For I should have been a companion of the angels, for I am a living breath, which God placed in dry mud; thus I should have known and felt God. But alas! When my tabernacle saw that it could turn its eyes into all the ways, it turned its attention toward the North; ach, ach! And there I was captured and robbed of my sight and the joy of knowledge, and my garment was torn.
Oh, who will console me, since even my mother has abandoned me when I strayed from the path of salvation? Who will help me but God? But when I remember you, O mother Zion, in whom I should have dwelt, I see the bitter slavery to which I am subjected. And when I have called to memory the music of all sorts that dwells in you, I feel my wounds. And when I remember the joy and gladness of your glory, I am horrified by the poisons that pollute them.
(Scivias 1.4.1, pp. 109–10)
Mother Zion’s tabernacle full of light and music (which appears at the top of the right-hand column of images in the Rupertsberg illustration, the goal of the soul as she struggles to return to grace) is a type or figure of Mother Church. But as the collective Mother Zion transformed into the collective Mother Church, so the individual and archetypal—but fallen—Mother Eve transformed into the Virgin Mother Mary as temporal instantiations of the divine tabernacle. The first words addressed to Mary in Scivias 3.13.1 praise her as precisely the “resplendent jewel” that was supposed to be the material of the human body, reflecting and refracting the divine light. Her body—transparent and unpolluted—was the perfect chamber for God’s presence that all other human bodies, following the inheritance of Eve, had scorned and vitiated with the darkness and shadow of sin.
This gemstone of a body draws on the construction of the heavenly Jerusalem, as noted above, and its refulgence also recalls the Transfiguration, where Jesus’s “face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2: resplenduit facies eius sicut sol) and his white garment glittered (Luke 9:29: refulgens). As Bynum (1995, pp. 161–63) has noted, Hildegard’s views on the glorified body track in late-antique traditions that contrasted its crystalline perfection with the change, decay, and death to which the fallen mortal body was subject. In her vision of the general resurrection in the next-to-last vision of Scivias (3.12, pp. 515–17), Hildegard sees the elect “shine with the brightness of their good works” and “became more splendid than the splendor of the sun” (super splendorem solis repente splendidi effecti). Casting this splendor in the hardness of a gemstone also invokes the use of gemstones as medicinal cures, as Hildegard outlines in Book 4 of her work, Physica. She also notes there that gemstones have their own innate power for the good: “it is the nature of certain precious stones to seek those things that are honorable and useful and to reject those that are depraved and evil for humankind, just as the virtues reject the vices and the vices cannot cooperate with the virtues.”9 Mary’s “resplendent jewel” of a body thus points forward to the beatified body of the resurrection and is empowered to seek out and enact the good.
As the fallen soul yearns for that bejeweled tabernacle, she remembers too “the music of all sorts” that filled it before the Fall. Music is, for Hildegard, an essential element of both the original, unfallen creation and its redemption through Christ, the New Song. The soul in Scivias 1.4.1 thus laments the loss of harmony, the integrated good of original creation cast into chaos (quam Eua turbauit in the antiphon, O splendidissima gemma).10 Hildegard likewise uses the antiphon’s music to mark the distinction between creation and the Creator by establishing different registers for Mary’s creatureliness and God’s divinity.11 The piece is composed in what is known as the second maneria, with a final or “home” tone of E, although Hildegard also indulges a penchant for stretching into the D tonal area of the first maneria while still resolving to the final E. In the first half of the antiphon, Hildegard uses the lower range of the D tonal area for Mary, stretching from the fourth below D (A) to the fifth above it (a). She reserves the higher range, which covers the final E to its octave e, for references to the divine—the Sun itself leaping from the Father’s heart, with the word saliens (“leaping”) the first to leap to the octave e, repeated again always in reference to Father and Word—on quod, the latter two appearances of Verbum, and both Pater and hominem (the Word-made-human).
While the musical range for references to creation (matter, Eve, and Mary) expands slightly in the second half of the antiphon (Hildegard allows it to reach up to c above the final), the upper third of the piece still remains out of reach until the last line. There, Hildegard draws the earthly up into the divine, as the final appearance of the word materia soars to the top note of e, while also following the same melodic contour as the phrase ipsum Verbum (“that Word”) from the previous line (Figure 2b). This shared melody also repeats a motif that Fassler (2022, p. 107) has identified as a key “melodic cell” from earlier in the piece. That phrase opens the second line of the antiphon (Figure 2a) and is then repeated four more times across the second and third lines, serving as the musical “rays” of the sun infusing Mary’s body. When it returns in the last two lines, however, it has been transposed up by a fifth, out of the lower register (where it started on D, reached to a, and ended on E) and into the higher one (starting on b for ipsum and a for materiam, reaching to the high e, and then ending on b). A snippet of this phrase had also appeared in the setting of Mary’s materia at the opening of the previous line, but set still in the lower register, with a melody that is mirrored at the opening of the last line on virtutes. With the final leap, then, the primordial material of creation at last returns to its divine source of the Word along the same path by which the virtutes—the virtues and powers of divine activity—came forth, creating and sustaining, into the world, refracted through the gem-like transparency of Mary’s pure material body.
The responsory that Hildegard composed as the second piece in praise of the Virgin in Scivias 3.13.1 leaves behind any comparison with the fallenness of Eve and focuses, again, on the image of Mary’s light, married now to another key image for the Virgin, the blooming branch (Scivias 3.13.1b, p. 525):12
R. O tu suavissima uirga
frondens de stirpe Iesse,
O quam magna uirtus est quod diuinitas
in pulcherrimam filiam aspexit,
sicut aquila in solem
oculum suum ponit:
R. Cum supernus Pater claritatem
Virginis adtendit
ubi Verbum suum
in ipsa incarnari
V. Nam in mistico
misterio Dei,
illustrata mente Virginis mirabiliter
clarus flos
ex ipsa Virgine
R. O sweetest branch,
you bloom from Jesse’s stock!
How great the mighty power, that divinity
has gazed upon his fairest daughter,
as an eagle turns his eye
into the sun:
R. When Heaven’s Father tended to
the Virgin’s brilliance
when his Word
in her to be incarnate
he willed.
V. For in the mystic
mystery of God,
the Virgin’s mind illumined wonderfully,
the flower bright
forth from that Virgin
The piece opens with a classic image for the Virgin Mary as the branch of Jesse’s stock (de stirpe Iesse), the genealogical lineage based on Isaiah 11:1 that stretches from King David’s father (Jesse) through Mary to Christ (the flower), and which became an increasingly common motif in twelfth-century art. We will return to this image later in this essay when we consider the version of the Jesse Tree that appears in Scivias 3.3. Here, we want to focus on the particular spin that Hildegard gives to the idea in this responsory: the Virgin Mary becomes the sun shining on the “bright flower” (clarus flos) of her Son. As Barbara Newman has noted (Hildegard of Bingen 1998, p. 278), this responsory inverts a common trope for the contemplative life. Usually, the mystic’s mind would be illumined as she gazes in contemplation upon God, as an eagle points its eye into the sun. But here, God is the eagle, turning his eye to look upon the brilliant sun of the Virgin.
The musical setting of the responsory clarifies these ideas. The piece has been set in the first maneria (which nominally has the final or home note of D), but transposed up a fifth, with a final of a. As a result, it generally inhabits a much higher range than the preceding antiphon, as it leaves the fallen realm of creation behind to gaze solely upon the Virgin’s sunlight. Lomer (2014) has noted that the highest pitch (cc, an octave and a third above the final) comes on the word solem (sun), and is repeated in the repetendum (the refrain) on claritatem (the Virgin’s brilliance) and uoluit (God willed). As Figure 3a indicates, Hildegard uses one of her signature moves, an opening leap of a fifth, in the fourth line of the responsory, as God in pulcherrimam filiam aspexit (“gazed upon his fairest daughter”). This Phrase 1 (less the opening leap) then becomes the setting with variation for the next line (Figure 3b), as she expands to the highest pitch on solem. Phrase 1, with the expanded range and the opening leap, sets the first line of the refrain (Figure 3c), and it returns a fourth time at the end of the refrain within the setting for voluit (Figure 3e), framed on either side by Phrase 2, a melody developed on the words oculum suum (“his eye”, Figure 3d). The long, melismatic setting of uoluit highlights another aspect of Hildegard’s Mariology that is bound up with the brilliant divine light permeating this responsory: the Virgin’s eternal predestination (Newman 1997, pp. 55–64). Essentially, Hildegard held that God willed from eternity that his Son would be incarnate (a doctrine known as “the eternal predestination of Christ”), and the corollary of this is that the Virgin Mary was likewise eternally willed to be the means for that Incarnation. Clear-eyed vision and foresight (or providence) dominate this sonic landscape. God himself saw in the Virgin’s lightsome womb the moment when he would enter the world and restore its lost harmony.

3. Aurora: The Virgin’s Dawn Light and the Incarnation

Mary’s lucida materia and claritas, her light-filled body and brilliance, suffuse salvation history in Scivias. In the previous section, we looked at a vision from the first part of the work, whose visions altogether track the order of creation and its fall. The second part of Scivias shifts its attention to the order of redemption: the coming of Christ in the Incarnation and the establishment of the Church and her sacraments. Its opening vision (Scivias 2.1: Figure 4) starts again from the beginning and tells the story of creation. To illustrate this vision, Hildegard designed a set of six roundels in the central sphere, telling the story of Genesis 1. Adam’s head is roused from the earth at the bottom of the sphere, and he is then offered a flower, “the sweet precept of obedience” (Scivias 2.1.8, p. 153), in the upper right. When he refuses the flower, he falls into the muddy darkness of sin below, his skin hardened red by disobedience. Punctuating that chaotic darkness are the stars of the patriarchs and prophets, whose dim light looks forward to the great light that bursts up from below, carrying upon its flames the golden Christ, the Redeemer coming to rescue Adam from the muck.
Many commentators (e.g., Newman 1997, p. 168; Garber 1998, p. 110) have noted that the illustration’s white flower that Adam sniffs is an iconographical invocation of the Virgin’s symbol of the lily, commonly found in depictions of the Annunciation. The flower is also a symbol of Christ, born of the Virgin’s womb atop the Jesse Tree, as described in the responsory, O tu suavissima virga. The flower in this vision is, moreover, one of its more startling images, as it inverts the common logic of the Fall: rather than sinning by picking and eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6), Adam here falls into sin because he fails to pick and eat of the flower of obedience. The visual parallel to the Annunciation, therefore, allows the viewer–reader to recognize that the Virgin’s Fiat (Luke 1:38), her act of saying “yes” in obedience to God, corrects and supersedes Adam’s failure.
That white flower, however, is not the only allusion to the Virgin Mary in this image. As noted above, the Rupertsberg Scivias manuscript uses gold and silver (as well as blue for the Son) to indicate the presence of the Trinity, especially in circular forms that echo the illustration of the Trinity for Scivias 2.2. The gold and blue wheel at the top of the image illustrates the beginning of the vision: “blazing fire, incomprehensible, inextinguishable, wholly living and wholly Life, with a flame in it the color of the sky.” Hildegard tells us this is “the Omnipotent and Living God” and “the Infinite Word…indivisibly in the Father” (Scivias 2.1.1–3, pp. 150–51). From this eternal wheel of divine fire descends a finger of silver to create the world. At the bottom of the image, however, the gold and blue wheel again emerges, pushing upward this time to propel the Redeemer into the darkness of the fallen world:13
And in the earth too appears a radiance like the dawn [fulgor ut aurora], into which the flame is miraculously absorbed, without being separated from the blazing fire. This is to say that God set a great splendor of light in the place where He would bring forth His Word and, fully willing it, sent Him there, yet not so as to be divided from Him; but He gave that profitable fruit and brought Him forth as a great fountain [magnum fontem], so that every faithful throat could drink and never more be dry. And thus in the radiance of the dawn the Supreme Will is enkindled; for in the bright and roseate serenity was seen the fruitfulness of the great and venerable counsel, so that all the forerunners marveled at it with bright joy.
And you see a serene Man coming forth from this radiant dawn, Who pours out His brightness into the darkness (…). This is the Word of God, imperishably incarnate in the purity of unstained virginity and born without pain, and yet not separated from the Father. How? While the Son of God was being born in the world from a mother, he was still in Heaven in the Father.
(Scivias 2.1.11–13, p. 154)
The Virgin Mary’s presence in this golden, radiant light is allusive yet powerful, and the antiphon, O splendidissima gemma, helps to crystallize the images. In this text from Scivias 2.1, we find echoes of the antiphon’s fourth line, of Christ the Sun and Word as “the fountain leaping from the Father’s heart.” The “radiant dawn” is thus the moment that brings the light of the eternal Sun into the world, the Virgin’s womb that births divinity into time. The images of the fountain and the dawn, moreover, provide a very strong reference beyond the text to tie the Virgin’s presence into it. Both are found in verses from the Song of Songs that had long been used as antiphons for Marian feast days, especially the Feast of the Assumption (August 15). The image of the fountain occurs in the antiphon, Hortus conclusus,14 commonly used in the Matins liturgy for the Assumption, which draws on Song of Songs 4:12: Hortus conclusus soror mea, sponsa, hortus conclusus, fons signatus (“A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed”). The more significant image, however, is of the dawn in the antiphon, Quae est ista,15 from the Office of Lauds (the liturgy sung at dawn) for the Assumption, which quotes Song of Songs 5:9: Quae est ista, quae ascendit sicut aurora consurgens, pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol, terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata? (“Who is she that mounts like the rising dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?”). These liturgical echoes would have been intimately familiar to Hildegard’s nuns from their daily religious experience and would thus have informed their reading (and viewing) of Scivias. The golden Christ emerging at the bottom of the page would appear to them, therefore, with the same force as the Virgin emerging “like the rising dawn.”
The cosmological setting of the Assumption antiphon’s images of sun and moon creates yet another context by which to understand the presence of the Virgin Mary within Scivias. As Fassler (2022) has demonstrated, the creation imagery of the six days (the “hexameron”) at the center of the illustration for Scivias 2.1 points us back to Hildegard’s vision of the cosmos in the figure of an Egg in Scivias 1.4. In that vision, Hildegard allegorizes the celestial bodies of sun, moon, and stars to create a map for salvation history, because the physical universe has a moral meaning for Hildegard. The sun—the great star or “globe of sparkling flame” that appears at the apex of the Cosmic Egg—is the Son of God. When Hildegard sees the sun dynamically flare up in brightness, she interprets this to mean:
[W]hen the time came that the Only-Begotten of God was to become incarnate for the redemption and uplifting of the human race by the will of the Father, the Holy Spirit by the power of the Father brought celestial mysteries wonderfully to pass in the Blessed Virgin; so that when the Son of God too in virginal chastity showed marvelous splendor and made virginity fruitful, virginity became glorious; for the longed-for Incarnation was brought to pass in the noble Virgin.
(Scivias 1.4.5, p. 95)
Moreover, as the sun pours its light into the moon to enkindle it, so Christ pours his light into the Church; and as the moon then distributes that light to the stars in the firmament, so the Church distributes the light of Christ in the blessed “works of piety” that constitute the work of the Church and her saints (Scivias 1.4.11–12, pp. 96–97). This cosmological map sets forth the broad schematic to transform the Virgin’s place mediating the Incarnation’s sunlight into the world into a pathway for the virgin nuns of Hildegard’s monastery to ascend to their places among the heavenly choirs. The Virgin Birth “made virginity fruitful” and thus “glorious”—in the terms of O splendidissima gemma, the “primal matter” of creation is recreated and exalted through the Virgin’s light-filled body, a virginal body to which Hildegard and her nuns now aspire. Thus far in this essay, we have seen the Virgin’s light permeating salvation history, both as the dawn light of the Incarnation and as the glorified, sparkling gem of heaven, presented to us at the close of Scivias as a model for what human bodies were always meant to be. But what are the actual steps along that path to virginal glory?

4. The Virgin and the Virtues

The third part of Scivias answers this question, as Hildegard constructs a vast “Edifice of Salvation” that both recapitulates the courses of salvation history from the first two parts of the work and also maps out the pathway through the great building towards redemption and sanctification. It again opens with a vision of God enthroned and a retelling of the Fall of Lucifer, setting up a place in heaven to be filled by humankind. The doctrine of “the ancient counsel,” i.e., God’s eternal will to be incarnate, permeates this vision.16 Hildegard pleads with the One Enthroned to make that counsel known to her, “how You willed Your Son to become incarnate and become a human being within Time; which You willed before all creation in Your rectitude and the fire of the Dove, the Holy Spirit, so that Your Son might rise from the Virgin in the splendid beauty of the sun [splendida solis forma] and be clothed with true humanity” (Scivias 3.1, p. 310). In this vision, moreover, she sees God clutching to his breast “what looks like black and filthy mire, as big as a human heart, surrounded with precious stones and pearls” (Scivias 3.1.3, p. 311). This mass of muck is fallen humanity, but “[t]hey are surrounded by ornaments,” the saints, “martyrs and holy virgins like precious stones (…) so that by them the mire is surpassingly adorned, and the virtues, which so gloriously shine in God, shine also in the human body” (Scivias 3.1.4, p. 312). The Father holds them to his breast because “[t]he Son of God went forth from the Father’s hear [de corde Patris exiuit] and entered into the world” (Scivias 3.1.6, p. 313). We see here that the language of the antiphon and responsory to the Virgin at the end of Scivias permeates this opening vision of Part Three—the resplendent beauty of the sun, the gemstones of holiness, and the Word from the Father’s heart.
The main characters of Part Three, however, are not so much Christ and his Virgin Mother in themselves, as they are the Virtues. They, too, were present in O splendidissima gemma: the pathway by which the prima materia reached the heavenly register was laid out by “the Word breathing forth all/the virtues.” For Hildegard, the Virtues are manifestations of divine power into the world. They are divine ideas that God shares with humanity, to assist us as we grow into holiness and reach out towards heaven. As we shall see, they are also analogues for the Virgin Mary herself: if she was the eternally predestined vehicle for God’s entry into the world, then the Virtues are her allies and her alter egos.
A total of thirty-five personified Virtues populate the Edifice of Salvation in Scivias, but we will narrow our look to those that appear in two of the visions in Part Three: The Tower of Anticipation of God’s Will (Scivias 3.3: Figure 5) and The Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity (Scivias 3.8: Figure 6). Fassler (2014) has demonstrated that Hildegard drew upon these two groups of Virtues when creating her sung morality play, Ordo Virtutum,17 thus “staging” the play within the “allegorical architecture” of Scivias. Indeed, Ordo Virtutum is intimately bound up with the treatise (a shortened, generalized version of the play, the Exhortatio Virtutum, in fact appears after the fourteen chants devoted to the heavenly choirs in Scivias 3.13.9), and was almost certainly intended as a way for Hildegard’s nuns to enact through regular performance the virtuous journey to which Scivias exhorts them (Fassler 2022). We touched earlier in this essay on one of the other points of contact between the two works: the lament of the fallen soul of “Everyperson” from Scivias 1.4 (which provided one of the key connections to O splendidissima gemma) also informs the laments of the fallen Soul (Anima) in the play (Fassler 2022, p. 23). These connections strengthen the conclusion that the Virtues were the practical models by which Hildegard’s nuns could imitate the splendid light of the Virgin.
The Tower of Anticipation of God’s Will in Scivias 3.3 (Figure 5) is in the northeastern quadrant of the Edifice of Salvation. Upon the Tower appear five Virtues (from left to right): Celestial Love (celestis amor), Discipline, Modesty, Mercy, and Victory. The vision describes each Virtue’s dress and disposition in detail and records a short speech that each one makes. These five Virtues are constitutive of salvation’s story, both as a history writ large and as a personal journey for each soul. Their order is progressive: both of those stories begin with desire for salvation (heavenly love), are trained in discipline and modesty, and then brought through mercy to victory. At this stage in the Edifice of Salvation, they precede the Incarnation in terms of the temporal structure of salvation history, and so Hildegard maps their historical journey onto God’s relationship with the Hebrews, beginning with the Covenant with Abraham. As Fassler has noted, the Virtues here are thus “anticipatory by location” (because they originate in the Old Testament) “but revelatory and fulfilling by direction and gaze” (Fassler 2022, p. 169), as each one faces other parts of the Edifice.
The Virtue in this Tower that is most revealing of the Virgin Mary is Mercy (Misericordia), the fourth from the left in the illustration. She turns her gaze toward the pillar of the Word of God and holds at her breast a picture of Jesus Christ, because “I [God] put My Son on the breast of Mercy when I sent Him into the womb of the Virgin Mary” (Scivias 3.3.8, p. 349). Meanwhile, the banderole behind her declares a verse from the Canticle of Zechariah: “Through the depths of the mercy of our God, in which the Dayspring from on high has visited us” (Luke 1:78). Mercy’s speech then echoes the appeal to justice for the powerless and poor from the other Canticle from the first chapter of Luke, the Magnificat of Mary: “I stretch out my hands always to pilgrims, and the needy, and the poor and weak, and those who groan” (Scivias 3.3, p. 343).18 When we turn to Hildegard’s elaboration on the figure of Mercy in Scivias 3.3.8 (pp. 348–49, in the voice of God), we find once again the sunlight from the music of Scivias 3.13.1: “those who disdained God while they were in sin will find Him shining on them like a gentle sunbeam [radius solis] when Mercy is brought to them from Heaven.” Mercy, “a fruitful mother of souls saved from perdition,” is “hung about with a yellow cloak, for she is surrounded by the shining sun, the sign of My Son, […] lighting up the world by the sanctification of the Church.” Here, too, we find the Virgin’s materia, for “Mercy also appears in womanly form because, when virginal matter [virginea materia] was enclosed in feminine chastity, sweetest Mercy arose in the womb of Mary.” In this vision, Hildegard’s nuns find that in embracing Mercy, they engage in that work of sanctification that leads to Victory, as the Virgin Mary’s womb led to victory in Jesus.19
The Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity (Scivias 3.8: Figure 6) is a much more substantial site of contact between the Virgin and the Virtues, and the reason should be obvious from its name. Situated in the southwestern quadrant of the Edifice of Salvation (and thus opposite the Tower of Scivias 3.3), this is the place of the Incarnation, where the Virgin’s light thus shines out upon the building. With the Tower of the Church (Scivias 3.9) appearing alongside it, this is the place where Hildegard’s nuns, as members of the Body of Christ, would commit themselves to the work of salvation and sanctification, with the Virtues as their guides. The text and illustration of Scivias 3.8 work together to invoke two key Marian images: the Tree of Jesse (mapped onto a ladder that recalls both Jacob’s Ladder and the Ladder of Humility in ch. 7 of the Rule of St. Benedict); and the iconographical pose known as the sedes Sapientiae, “the Seat of Wisdom” (Fassler 2014, 2022).
Seven major Virtues are arrayed along the outside of the pillar. The first is Humility at the top right, with a golden crown (for she is the Queen of the Virtues); second, Charity (Caritas) below her, in blue with a gold stole; third, Fear of the Lord, “non-human in form” and “covered with eyes all over her body;” fourth, Obedience at the bottom right, with silver bindings around her neck, wrists, and ankles. Faith is the fifth virtue, appearing to the left of the pillar near its top, dressed in the same crystalline white highlighted with light blue as Humility and Obedience;20 sixth is Hope, at the middle left of the pillar, gesturing to the Crucifix that appears before her; and seventh is Chastity, at the left foot of the pillar, the dove of the Holy Spirit over her head and a child—Innocence—in her lap. The lucent figure at the very top of the pillar, meanwhile—depicted in episcopal robes of silver—represents the Grace of God, the divine power that quickens all the other virtues. Indeed, one could say that often, where other theologians would use the term “grace” to describe God’s sanctifying power given to humans, Hildegard is wont to use the term “virtue” (Newman 1997, pp. 58–61).
For the power that builds up the faithful in their works of sanctification comes from these virtues. In the illustration for Scivias 3.8, four additional, anonymous virtues are shown climbing up and down the steps of the pillar, “for in God’s Only-Begotten the lucent virtues [lucidissimae uirtutes] descend in His Humanity and ascend in His Divinity.” These virtues help the faithful to build the Body of Christ out of the red stones they carry, which “are the winged and shining deeds [lucida opera] people do, with [the virtues’] help, to win salvation” (Scivias 3.8.13, pp. 435–36). As has long been recognized (e.g., Liebeschütz [1930] 1964, pp. 51–55; Dronke 1991; Fassler 2022, p. 165), this image hearkens back to the second-century Hermae Pastor (Shepherd of Hermas), a very influential work in the development of Christian visionary allegory, yet also rare to access in the Latin tradition of the twelfth century. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Hildegard knew the work and drew upon its Ninth Similitude, of the tower built of living stones (the Church), carried to it by virginal virtues (Hilgenfeld 1873, pp. 114–60; trans. Lightfoot 1898, pp. 460–81). By incorporating the image into this vision of the Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity, Hildegard aligns this construction with the work of the Virgin Mary’s body, a gleaming gemstone that releases the light of the Incarnation into the world.
The seven main Virtues are drawn from several sources: first, we have the three theological virtues from 1 Corinthians 13:13: faith, hope, and charity or love (caritas); second, we have a core set of virtues for the monastic life, as outlined in the Rule of St. Benedict (RB 1980): humility (the focus of RB ch. 7, which outlines twelve steps for the virtue); fear of the Lord (the first step of humility in RB ch. 7, as well as the seventh gift of the Holy Spirit); and obedience (the focus of RB ch. 5). Finally, we have chastity, the companion of the virginity that is the particular hallmark of the female religious life of Hildegard and her nuns. Moreover, Hildegard explicitly links these seven Virtues to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, “for it was by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that the glorious Virgin conceived the Son of God without sin, sanctified by these holy virtues” (Scivias 3.8.14, p. 436). This leads her to consider the canonical list of these seven gifts, from the Vulgate tradition of Isaiah 11:1–3: “And there shall come forth a branch out the root of Jesse; and a flower shall rise up out of his root. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of piety; and the spirit of the fear of the Lord shall fill him.” Hildegard’s lengthy exegesis of these verses (Scivias 3.8.15, pp. 436–39) elegantly interweaves the seven gifts with the seven virtues of her vision, and thus squarely situates them within the Scriptural context of the Tree of Jesse.
Hildegard also invokes the image of the Virgin as “the branch from the root of Jesse” in the responsory, O tu suavissima virga (discussed above), thus drawing the virtues of Scivias 3.8 into the symphonic synthesis at the end of the work. Fassler (2022, pp. 190–96) has elaborated on the iconographical tradition that informs this “Sonic Jesse Tree,” especially as it was incorporated into the Ordo Virtutum. The imagery of Mary as the branch and her Son as the flower permeates many passages, not only in Scivias, but throughout Hildegard’s oeuvre; a complete catalogue is beyond the scope of this study. What we will note here is that Jesse Tree imagery appears also in the anthropological vision of Scivias 1.4, which we saw earlier was the matrix for the gemstone imagery of Mary’s body in the antiphon, O splendidissima gemma. In that vision, the infant is quickened in the mother’s womb, “just as the earth opens and brings forth the flowers of its use when the dew falls on it.”21 Thereafter, the soul and its powers (vires) “give vitality and viridity to the marrow and veins and members of the whole body, as the tree from its root gives sap and viridity to all the branches” (Scivias 1.4.16, pp. 119–20). In the network of imagery that Hildegard creates in Scivias, the Virgin Mary’s branch for Christ’s flower is the model for every human person.
Hildegard’s use of another type of Marian iconography—the sedes Sapientiae—in the illustration for Scivias 3.8 refines this universal anthropology to provide Marian models specifically for religious women. In this tradition, the Virgin is depicted enthroned (and usually crowned), holding in her lap for presentation the Christ-child, Wisdom incarnate, with his hand usually raised in blessing. Two of the Virtues in particular invoke this iconography: the first, Humility, at the top right; and the seventh, Chastity, at the bottom left. Humility appears crowned and holding Christ in her lap; according to the vision text, this is an image of Christ shining brilliantly upon a mirror, indicating that Humility “stands in the heart of the sacred temple in blessed and shining knowledge” (Scivias 3.8.18, p. 442)—a description that aligns her especially with the sedes Sapientiae tradition. The image of Chastity is even more starkly Marian, because of the Holy Spirit’s dove hovering over her head, overshadowing her like it overshadowed the Virgin in the Annunciation (Luke 1:35). Moreover, as Fassler (2022, p. 245) observes, Humility’s crown and Chastity’s sceptre appear again on the head and in the hand of the Virgin enthroned in heaven in Scivias 3.13 (Figure 7).
Humility is the foundational virtue for the monastic life as sketched in the Rule of St. Benedict; in the words of her speech in Scivias 3.8.1, “Whoever wishes to imitate me and be my child and embrace me as a mother and carry out my work, let him start at the foundation and gradually mount upward from virtue to virtue.” Chastity, meanwhile, is the crown of this sequence of virtues: “I am free and not fettered,” she declares, “for I have passed through the pure Fountain Who is the sweet and loving Son of God” (Scivias 3.8.7, p. 428). Hildegard expands on this speech later when explaining the meaning of Humility’s crystalline tunic: “she is enwrapped in the garment of innocence, which shines in the bright light of the Fountain of living water, the splendid Sun of eternal glory” (Scivias 3.8.24, p. 446). This is, of course, the same fountain that leaps from the Father’s heart and the same Sun that beams into the Virgin’s womb in O splendidissima gemma. When Hildegard incorporates chastity into the sequence of the Holy Spirit’s gifts in the Tree of Jesse, she links it to piety, “since this virtue arose in supernal piety” (Scivias 3.8.15, p. 439). Invoking the contrast between Eve and Mary, she continues:
And so, in the branch that came forth from Jesse, the virtues of this Flower put forth buds. The first woman had fled from these virtues by consenting to the counsel she heard from the serpent, and the whole human race fell in her and was cut off from supernal joy and glory; but the blossoming of this branch uplifted the human race in knowledge through piety to the holiness of salvation.
The Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity is a tree of virtues along which Hildegard’s nuns can climb, ascending the branch of the Virgin Mary’s humility and chastity, to escape their fallenness as daughters of Eve and to reach the flower of Christ and his salvation.

5. Conclusions: The Virgin(s) and the Symphony

After interweaving the seven Virtues on the Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit on the Jesse Tree in Scivias 3.8.15, Hildegard immediately turns to a verse from the Song of Songs (2:3) that transforms the virtue of Chastity into the bridal figure of Virginity. This is one of those moments in Hildegard’s works where Virginity becomes an all-encompassing figure, connecting the Virgin Mary with the soul of the virgin nun into a single concept:
Therefore, O Virginity, which by the ardent enkindling produced the greatest fruit, which shone in the star of the sea and fights the savage darts of the Devil and despises all shameful filth, rejoice in celestial harmony and hope for the company of angels. How? The Holy Spirit makes music in the tabernacle of Virginity; for she always thinks of how to embrace Christ with full devotion.
(Scivias 3.8.16, p. 440)
This music, of both the Virgin’s womb and the virgin nuns’ daily liturgical service, brings us back to the celestial symphony that closes out Scivias 3.13 (Figure 7). As discussed earlier, Fassler (2022) has demonstrated that this vision is organized according to the Matins liturgy for the Feast of All Saints. That liturgy is composed of three subunits called Nocturns, each of which includes four responsories interspersed amongst its readings. The last set of four are proper to All Saints, but the first eight are borrowed from other feasts or the Common of the Saints to create a hierarchy: the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the angels, John the Baptist, the apostles, the martyrs, the confessors, and virgins. Hildegard follows this same hierarchy, beginning with the Virgin Mary (and with John the Baptist joined by the patriarchs and other prophets) in Scivias 3.13.1–7. In the illustration for the Rupertsberg Scivias manuscript, you can see each of these seven subjects depicted in one of seven circles.
Missing from the Scivias symphony, however, are any pieces devoted to the subject of the first All Saints responsory, the Trinity. Hildegard did indeed compose an antiphon for the Trinity (Laus Trinitati), as well as a responsory and a variety of antiphons devoted to individual persons of the Trinity. None of them are included in Scivias; but the illustration for the heavenly symphony fills this lacuna. As I have argued (Campbell 2013, 2021), the Rupertsberg manuscript uses a particular set of colors to illustrate the Trinity, based on the vision in Scivias 2.2. The background of heaven in the Scivias 3.13 image is created from panels of these three Trinitarian colors: gold, silver, and blue. This is Hildegard’s beatific vision, suffused with beatific sound and calling her nuns to join with the ranks of all the saints.
Fassler (2022, p. 244) also connects the seven roundels of these heavenly choirs with the six roundels depicting the Genesis creation in Scivias 2.1 (Figure 4), arguing that the symphony is “a new creation.” The relationship, therefore, between the first roundel (containing the Virgin Mary) and the seventh roundel (holding the order of virgins) can be understood as the arc from the beginning of creation to its ending. Alongside the Virgin’s gemstone body, a key image of the antiphon, O splendidissima gemma, is the identification of the Virgin with prima materia, primal matter. As Hildegard writes in another of her Marian lyrics, the sequence, O virga ac diadema, “O branch, God foresaw your blossoming on the first day of his creation” (Hildegard of Bingen 1998, p. 131). If Mary’s virginal blossoming provided the model for original creation and her womb was the matrix for the new creation, then the vowed virginity of Hildegard’s nuns, singing in the celestial symphony, blossoms at its culmination.
Hildegard strengthens this parallel in the ecclesiological interpretation of the hexameron found in the second part of her final large work, the Liber diuinorum operum (The Book of Divine Works: LDO 2.1.17–49: Hildegard of Bingen 2018, pp. 287–347). Although she wrote this commentary almost two decades after Scivias, she was likely designing the illustrations for the Rupertsberg Scivias manuscript at the same time as she was writing the largest and most comprehensive commentary on Genesis penned by a premodern woman. In the allegorical mode of her interpretation, she “tracks the distinct ‘days’ of Church history […], from the apostolic ministry of the first and second days to the persecutions of the third, the establishment of sacred and secular authorities in the sun and moon on the fourth day, and the culminating development of monastic orders on the fifth. The creation of humankind on the sixth day recapitulates the Church’s ‘edificatio,’ and the seventh day’s rest spirals back to the fullness of Christ” (Campbell 2019, p. 32). One of the innovations of Hildegard’s commentary, when compared to standard models before her like the works of St. Augustine, is that she embraces the seventh day for her own place in the Church, rather than reserving it for the eternal Sabbath at the end of time. Moreover, certain textual echoes bind this commentary more closely to the visions of Scivias.
The choir of Virgins is the seventh of the Scivias symphony, and their roundel appears in the center of the lower matrix of five choirs in the manuscript illustration. Hildegard’s exegesis of Isaiah 11:1–3 (Scivias 3.8.15, p. 437) had already linked the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the Tree of Jesse with the seventh day of creation: “The Holy Spirit is said to have rested on the Flower in a sevenfold manner, as God created all things through His Word in the Holy Spirit and on the seventh day rested from His work.” But in the LDO, Hildegard pushes the connection further. When she begins her allegorical interpretation of Genesis, she intentionally paraphrases the first day of physical creation as that of prima materia, the same “primal matter” from the antiphon, O splendidissima gemma, a verbal echo that presages what is to come: the beginning of the Church (her first day) at the moment of Christ’s Incarnation, when God sent his Son “into the world through the golden gate of the Virgin, in the cloister of her modesty” (LDO 2.1.18: Hildegard of Bingen 2018, p. 290).
When we reach the seventh day of creation and Hildegard sees the establishment of the Church perfected and shining, the Virgin Mary again appears: “For my Son, who is my seventh work, proceeding from the Virgin’s womb through humanity, accomplished all these things with me in the Holy Spirit” (LDO 2.1.48: Hildegard of Bingen 2018, p. 346). We see here how Hildegard allows the cycle of creation, from beginning to perfection, to constantly circle around the Incarnation, with the Virgin’s womb as its center-point; as she says elsewhere, “as on the seventh day [God] rested from his every work and then established humankind to take up the work, so too in the Virgin’s womb he made his Son to rest, and to him he committed his every work” (LDO 3.4.3: Hildegard of Bingen 2018, p. 398). On the seventh day of the Church’s creation, meanwhile, we find that work perfected, as God declares:
I blessed and hallowed this seventh day with the salvation of souls, as I sent my Son to be incarnate in the Virgin’s womb. And I blessed and hallowed it, for in that, my day, I was greatly pleased—that is, in those who, as the blooms of roses and lilies, freed from the yoke of the law and with me as their only inspiration, began freely to constrain themselves.
These “blooms of roses and lilies” are, in fact, the order of virgins, like Hildegard’s own monastery. They are the ones who shine in the Church’s perfection, the Church’s seventh day. The phrase comes from a responsory for the first nocturn of Matins on the Feast of the Assumption, which describes the Virgin Mary as a dove flying over a stream on a spring day, surrounded by the flowers.22 Hildegard had heard it in a vision before: in Scivias 2.5, the voice from heaven uses those same words (flos rosarum et lilium conuallium) to describe the radiant figure of Virginity (Virginitas) held to the breast of the Church. “Surrounded by the variety of the virtues” (Scivias 2.5.6, p. 205), Virginity labors for spiritual perfection with her company, the order of virgins, who are “the noblest perfection of churchly religion” (Scivias 2.5.5, p. 204). As she describes the work of these virgins, Hildegard singles out several virtues by name—the very same ones that we saw were Marian analogues in Scivias 3.8. These women have “preserved their virginity in radiant humility” and they “grasp the purity of innocence which is adorned with the beautiful splendor of chastity” (Scivias 2.5.6–7, p. 205). As a result of this life of virginal virtue, Hildegard sees them standing in this vision “brighter than the sun, all wonderfully adorned with gold and gems.” Gleaming now like the Virgin’s body in O splendidissima gemma, they raise their voices in a new song of praise (Scivias 2.5.7, pp. 205–6).
The hallmark of Hildegard’s treatment of the feminine figures of salvation history—Eve, Mary, the Church, and virgins as the Church’s perfection—is that she can so frequently subsume them into singular symbols of femininity, where all can be simultaneously present. As Schmidt (1981) has noted, one way of connecting Mary and the Church is through the common concept of materia, and in the Scivias antiphon, O splendidissima gemma, the prima materia involves Eve too. This is what makes the Virgin Mary a compelling model for Hildegard’s nuns: despite the seemingly vast chasm that separates them as finite individuals from the cosmic figure of the Mother of God, their shared femininity and—more importantly—virginity gives them access to the same cosmic pathway towards glorification. The Virgin’s ideal provides guides along that path, in the form of Virtues that Hildegard not only sees in her visions but had her nuns enact in the interconnected settings of the Scivias and Ordo Virtutum. When they practice those virtues, they open their bodies to the divine light and climb the pillar of the Savior’s humanity to ascend into the perfection of the heavenly symphony.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


I gratefully acknowledge the permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, Eibingen, Germany, to reproduce images from their color facsimile of Hildegard’s Scivias.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


Several of these points are also addressed in Schmidt (1981) and Clark (2002).
English quotations will be adapted from Hildegard of Bingen (1990), with Latin references from Hildegardis Bingensis (1978); in-line references will be given in the form Part.Vision.Chapter followed by page numbers from (1990), e.g., (Scivias 1.1.1, pp. 67–68).
Wiesbaden, Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek RheinMain 1, which has been missing since 1945; it is preserved in a series of black-and-white photographs from the 1920’s and a hand-painted facsimile produced at the Abtei St. Hildegard, Eibingen, in the 1920’s and 1930’s; images for this article were graciously supplied by the Abtei St. Hildegard from the later color copy.
Dendermonde, Sint-Pieters- en Paulusabdi ms 9 (D), available online: (accessed on 1 January 2023); Wiesbaden, Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek RheinMain 2, aka Riesencodex (R), available online: (accessed on 1 January 2023).
Although many of the ideas in this study have percolated in my work for nearly a decade, it has been stimulated in the final analysis by Fassler (2022) and can be seen as a response and complement to it.
For a good recent overview, see Miles (2020).
Latin text Hildegardis Bingensis (1978, p. 615), adapted following the musical setting in Fassler (2022, p. 106); the translation, as well as much of the following analysis, is adapted from my own for the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies: (accessed on 28 February 2023).
I have argued (Campbell 2013, 2021) that the image of the Trinity for Scivias 2.2 provided the iconographical key of gold, silver, and blue for appearances of the Trinity and its persons throughout the rest of the manuscript, with evidence that the Father is represented in gold and the Holy Spirit in silver; however, there is equally compelling evidence for the reverse, with the Father as silver and the Holy Spirit as gold—see Salvadori (2019) and Fassler (2022, pp. 93–94).
Hildegard von Bingen (2010, p. 229): “quoniam natura eorundem pretiosorum lapidum queque honesta et utilia querit, et prava et mala homini respuit, quemadmodum virtutes vitia abiciunt, et ut vitia cum virtutibus operari non possunt.”
See Flynn (2007) for a concise summary of Hildegard’s views on this.
The musical notation survives in D, fol. 154r-v; and R, fol. 466vb. Transcriptions of the piece can be found in Fassler (2022, p. 109) and by Beverly R. Lomer for the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies: (accessed on 28 February 2023).
Latin text from Hildegardis Bingensis (1978, p. 615), adapted according to musical phrasing, with markings added for the repetendum (refrain) and verse. The musical versions of this responsory in the manuscripts (D, fol. 156v; R, fol. 468r) add in a setting of the doxology; the refrain would have been repeated after the verse, then the doxology, and then a final repetition of the refrain. The translation is adapted from my own at (accessed on 28 February 2023).
Words set in italics represent Hildegard’s initial description of the vision, which is later repeated, one section at a time, with explication.
CAO 3137; Available online: (accessed on 31 January 2023).
CAO 4425; Available online: (accessed on 31 January 2023).
For this same idea in the thought of Duns Scotus, see the essay of Kunka (2022) elsewhere in this special issue of Religions.
For the text and an English translation of the Ordo Virtutum, see Dronke (1994, pp. 147–84).
The response of the chorus of Virtues to Mercy in the Ordo Virtutum reinforces this echo of the Magnificat: “O laudabilis mater peregrinorum, tu semper erigis illos, atque ungis pauperes et debiles.” (“Matchless mother of exiles, you are always raising them up and anointing the poor and the weak.”) (Dronke 1994, pp. 170–71).
Intriguingly, the figure of Victory here, though grammatically feminine in the text, is described as dressed in armor, and the illustration of her arms utterly obscures any feminine features. However, as Fassler has shown (2014 and 2022), when Hildegard transfers this figure into her play, Ordo Virtutum, she uses melodic echoes of the Marian antiphon, Ave regina caelorum, to align Victory with the Virgin. Such “gender bending” was, in fact, a fairly common feature of twelfth-century women’s spirituality—see Newman (1995).
Saurma-Jeltsch (1998, p. 174) notes that the illustration omits the red chain around Faith’s neck that is mentioned in the text (Scivias 3.8.22, p. 445), while her hand gesture (her left index finger extended) references her confession that “God is One” (Scivias 3.8.5, p. 427).
Although the image of the dew upon the flower is absent from the Marian lyrics in Scivias, it is a common trope in Hildegard’s vocabulary, both in her music (e.g., verse 6 of the hymn Ave generosa: Hildegard of Bingen 1998, p. 122) and in her other works (e.g., LDO 3.2.13: Hildegard of Bingen 2018, p. 378).
Vidi speciosam sicut columbam ascendentem, CAO 7878; Available online: (accessed on 31 January 2023).


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Figure 1. Scivias 1.4: Soul and Body. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 22r. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
Figure 1. Scivias 1.4: Soul and Body. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 22r. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
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Figure 2. Phrases from O splendidissima gemma: (a) First two repetitions of phrase from line 2. (b) Lines 8–9, with transposed phrases from line 2 marked. Adapted according to Fassler (2022) from the transcription of Beverly R. Lomer/International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies.
Figure 2. Phrases from O splendidissima gemma: (a) First two repetitions of phrase from line 2. (b) Lines 8–9, with transposed phrases from line 2 marked. Adapted according to Fassler (2022) from the transcription of Beverly R. Lomer/International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies.
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Figure 3. Phrases from O tu suavissima virga: (a) Phrase 1 from line 4. (b) Phrase 1 variant from line 5. (c) Phrase 1 variant from line 7. (d) Phrase 2 from line 6. (e) End of repetendum. Adapted from the transcription of Beverly R. Lomer/International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies.
Figure 3. Phrases from O tu suavissima virga: (a) Phrase 1 from line 4. (b) Phrase 1 variant from line 5. (c) Phrase 1 variant from line 7. (d) Phrase 2 from line 6. (e) End of repetendum. Adapted from the transcription of Beverly R. Lomer/International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies.
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Figure 4. Scivias 2.1: Creation and the Redeemer. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 41v. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
Figure 4. Scivias 2.1: Creation and the Redeemer. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 41v. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
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Figure 5. Scivias 3.5: The Tower of the Anticipation of God’s Will. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 139r. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
Figure 5. Scivias 3.5: The Tower of the Anticipation of God’s Will. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 139r. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
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Figure 6. Scivias 3.8: The Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 178r. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
Figure 6. Scivias 3.8: The Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 178r. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
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Figure 7. Scivias 3.13: The Symphony of the Blessed. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 229r. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
Figure 7. Scivias 3.13: The Symphony of the Blessed. Rüdesheim/Eibingen, Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard, MS 1, fol. 229r. By permission of the nuns of the Benediktinerinnenabtei St. Hildegard.
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Campbell, N.M. “O Jewel Resplendent”: The Virgin Mary and Her Analogues in Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias. Religions 2023, 14, 342.

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