There was a brief timespan in college when I was going to go into Medieval literature. I’d taken a one-month class, taught by the now very distinguished H. Evan Runner Chair in the History of Philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies, Bob Sweetman. At the time, his children were still toddlers, which lends dignity to noone; back then, he drank out of a Spiderman mug and students made fun of his ties. Anyway, it was a one-month class entitled Women in Medieval Society, and we read Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, and Hildegard of Bingen.
I have a very clear memory of Prof. Sweetman quoting one of the women (maybe Teresa of Avila?) to us, “Open Thy mouth wider, God, that I may taste Thee.” But I can’t find reference to it anywhere.
This was a group of passionate, fascinating, deep thinking women. We read them, we learned about their lives; Hildegard’s music even became my favorite study music.
But I somehow missed that Hildegard illuminated her own visions, in bright, trippy paintings. I was going to take one and unpack it, but it’s rather like uncoding some of the biblical visions in the Old Testament and in Revelation: they reveal as much about the assumptions of the time as they do matters of spiritual import. So instead of wrestling with that, I just want to gather some of my favorite illuminations for our mutual awe and enjoyment.
Thank you so much to my good friend Christina Van Dyke for showing these to me. I’m pretty sure they’ll still be as astonishing while I’m sitting here at my dining room table, as they were yesterday in the blazing sunshine over a beer.
Talk about scope for imagination!