City of Gems and Song

City of Gems and Song January 13, 2016

In her contribution to Envisaging Heaven in the Middle Ages, Beverly Mayne Kienzle summarizes Hildegard of Bingen’s understanding of heaven and of the new Jerusalem. For Hildegard, “Jerusalem represents the vision of peace and salvation, the final resting place for those who perform good works in this life.” She “retains the traditional exegesis of the heavenly Jerusalem as the vision of peace and salvation, glossing the word Jerusalem in that way” (38-9).

She also develops various aspects of the vision of Jerusalem in Revelation: “Hildegard envisions the heavenly city as constructed of living stones, echoing the lapidem vivum of 1 Peter 2:4, to combine the human and the lapidary in her imagery. In the Solutiones, she prays for Guibert of Gembloux that the Holy Spirit enkindle him to persevere in service in order that he may deserve to become a living stone of the heavenly Jerusalem. Writing to Bishop Gunther of Speyer, she explains that the foundation of the city consists of repentant sinners, explaining that it was laid first with those stones who were wounded and contaminated but who later pressed down their sins through penance. Those stones make a sort of gravel bed for the city walls.” Gems “describe Virginity and its place among the virtues.” 

Jerusalem is a city of jewels. Also a city of Song: “‘O Jerusalem’, a sequence for St Rupert probably written for the consecration for the church of St Rupert in 1151, praises the saint as a noble receptacle in which the Spirit sounds out a symphony. Rupert’s radiance mirrors that of the heavenly city where he dwells. Near the close of the Ordo, the chorus of virtues evokes the heavenly Jerusalem and those who ‘gleam in heavenly goodness.’” Thus, “the imagery of construction that we have traced through Hildegard’s works is accompanied by evocations of heaven as the place of musical harmony. . . . Hildegard’s well-known letter to the prelates of Mainz asserts that voices and instruments aid the restoration of the soul to its heavenly condition, and the ability to hear the celestial symphony becomes manifest when the community sings. Some of the Expositiones include images of loud rejoicing and praises that accompany the return home of a repentant sinner. Since the musical aspects of heaven will be discussed in Stephen D’Evelyn’s chapter, we will move to considering Hildegard’s vision of heaven as compared to that of some of her contemporaries.”

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