Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath. She founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs for women choirs to sing, and poems.
In this illumination from Liber Scivias, Hildegard is receiving a vision, dictating to her scribe and sketching on a wax tablet.
One of her poems was translated by Revd Frederick Littledale – he also translated Come Down, O Love divine and you can read more about him on that post.
Her words are here coupled with Third Mode Melody, which was contributed by Thomas Tallis (1515-1585) to Archbishop *Parker’s The Whole Psalter of 1567. The ancient rhythm and chords of the tune seem to fit well with the even more ancient words. The tune is the one used by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
*Matthew Parker was Archbishop of Canterbury 1559–1575.
He made a substantial contribution to the Book of Common Prayer.
Some people think he was the original “nosey Parker”.
Thomas Tallis (c 1505-1585) is considered to be one of England’s greatest composers. He may not have looked much like this picture, taken from a painting made 159 years after Tallis’s death.
O FIRE of God, the Comforter, O life of all that live.
Holy art thou to quicken us, and holy, strength to give:
To heal the broken-hearted ones, their sorest wounds to bind,
O Spirit of all holiness, O Lover of mankind!
O sweetest taste within the breast, O grace upon us poured.
That saintly hearts may give again their perfume to the Lord.
O purest fountain! we can see, clear mirrored in thy streams.
That God brings home the wanderers, that God the lost redeems.
O breastplate strong to guard our life, O bond of unity,
O dwelling-place of righteousness, save all who trust in thee:
Defend those who in dungeon dark are prisoned by the foe.
And, for thy will is aye to save, let thou the captives go.
O surest way, that through the height and through the lowest deep
And through the earth dost pass, and all in firmest union keep;
From thee the clouds and ether move, from thee the moisture flows.
From thee the waters draw their rills, and earth with verdure glows.
And thou dost ever teach the wise, and freely on them pour
The inspiration of thy gifts, the gladness of thy lore.
All praise to thee, O joy of life, O hope and strength, we raise.
Who givest us the prize of light, who art thyself all praise.