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She was the sickly rather worrying tenth child of a family who couldn’t really cope, and a girl besides, so not likely to be a prop and stay, and although her family had some nobility they didn’t have a lot of resources, and they were at their wits end, so like many sickly, perhaps slightly difficult children at the tag end of large families that weren’t functioning very well, she was put into social care.
Only they seemed to do social care for little girls a little bit better in the eleventh century than we do now, in terms of getting to the depths of a person’s spirit, finding out what it is that makes her grow and flourish; so little Hildegaard, at the age of eight, was put into the care of another strong and interesting woman, the Abbess Jutta, and she began the enclosed life. But actually within that enclosure, that sacred space, an extraordinarily vigorous and profound mystical culture amidst a community of women was flourishing. Within that enclosed community there was the herb garden, the enclosed garden, which turned out to be something Hildegaard was particularly good at looking after, a kind of central space that she loved, and in which she ceased to be sickly a little, and to grow, and to flourish.
We don’t know a great amount about the early years of her enclosure; she didn’t, as it were, suddenly flourish forth beyond the walled garden of her sisters, until an extraordinary sequence of spiritual events about forty years into her enclosure. But we do know that this sickly cast off tenth child – this little girl for whom there was no room – by the end of her long and fruitful life, had become a magistra, a teacher, an Abbess, a founder of abbeys; she had left behind her, nine books, 72 songs, 70 poems, over 100 letters, and all of them full of radical visionary theology…