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De virginibus

by Jodi Goble

Text: Hildegard of Bingen;

12th-century German Catholic abbess, composer, mystic

Hildegard rose to become an abbess of her own convent, and experienced mystical connection with the divine throughout her life.  She left countless chants that record her visions and were meant for the nuns under her care to sing daily in liturgical services. In October 2012, she was raised to the rank of saint and then further became one of 34 Doctors of the Catholic Church, only 3 of whom are women.

The first two poems in Hildegard von Bingen’s De Virginibus, written and dedicated to the nuns under her care — figure among her most playful and lighthearted texts.  The tone is one of wonder and affection, with no hint of admonishment; Hildegard, herself a master gardener and herbalist, likens the nuns to young plants who greet the dawn and flourish under a celestial sun.  The third poem, far longer than the first two, is also heavier in tone, and addresses the challenges of living in collective celibacy with frank, sensually evocative language. The musical setting for these poems is inspired largely by Hildegard’s own music:  highly melismatic, written to showcase both the ethereal and earthy qualities of the female voice, more modal than tonal, and sensitive in its treatment of text.  A dotted-note Leitmotif, meant to musically depict the natural delivery of the word ‘dulcissime’, appears throughout the work.

Text and translations:

Latin text: Hildegard of Bingen (1098- 1179)

1. O pulchrae facies

O pulchrae facies,

Deum aspicientes in aurora aedificantes,

o beatae virgines, quam nobiles estis.

In quibus Rex se consideravit,

cum in vobis omnia caelestia ornamenta praesignavit,

ubi etiam suavissimus hortus estis,

in omnibus ornamentis redolentes.

O beautiful faces

O beautiful faces,

God-gazers, dawn-builders,

o blessed virgins, how noble you are.

In this He considers Himself a King,

that you personify all things beautiful and celestial.

You are the sweetest of gardens,

the most decorative, the most fragrant.

2. O nobilissima viriditas​

O nobilissima viriditas, quae radicas in sole,

et quae in candida serenitate luces in rota,

quam nulla terrena excellentia comprehendit,

tu circumdata es

amplexibus divinorum mysteriorum.

Tu rubes ut aurora

et ardes ut solis flamma.

O most noble greenness

O most noble greenness, with roots in the sun,

and which, in the serene white light of the wheel that no earthly excellence can comprehend,

embraces you and surrounds you

with the divine mysteries.

You, and it, burn red as the dawn

of the sun’s flame.

3. O dulcissime amator

O dulcissime amator,

o dulcissime amplexator,

adiuva nos custodire

virginitatem nostram.

Nos sumus ortae in pulvere,

heu, heu, et in crimine Adae.

Valde durum est contradicere

quod habet gustus pomi.

Tu erige nos, Salvator, Christe.

Nos desideramus ardenter te sequi.

O quam grave nobis miseris est

te immaculatum et innocentem

Regem Angelorum imitari.

Tamen confidimus in te,

quod tu desideres

gemmam requirere in putredine.

Nunc advocamus te Sponsum et consolatorem,

qui nos redemisti in cruce.

In tuo sanguine copulatae sumus tibi cum desponsatione,

repudiantes virum

et eligentes te, Filium Dei.

O pulcherrima forma,

o suavissimus odor desiderabilium deliciarum,

semper suspiramus post te

in lacrimabili exilio,

quando te videamus et tecum maneamus!

Nos sumus in mundo

et tu in mente nostra,

et amplectimur te in corde,

quasi habeamus te praesentem.

Tu fortissimus leo rupisti caelum,

descendens in aulam Virginis,

et destruxisti mortem,

aedificans vitam in aurea civitate.

Da nobis societatem cum illa,

et permanere in te, o dulcissime Sponse,

qui abstraxisti nos de faucibus Diaboli,

primum parentem nostrum seducentis.

O sweetest lover,

o sweetest embracer,

help us to keep

our virginity.

We arise in the dust,

alas, alas, in the crimes of Adam.

The taste of the apple

is hard to resist.

You strengthen us, oh Saviour, oh Christ.

We ardently desire to follow you.

Oh, how hard it is for we, the miserable ones to imitate your example, immaculate and innocent

King of the Angels.

We put our trust in you, however,

to nip the worm of our desire in the bud.

Now you summon the Bridegroom, the Counsellor,

who has redeemed us on the cross.

In your blood we are united,

repudiating man and choosing you,

Son of God.

O most beautiful form,

sweetest odor of most delicious delights,

forever we sigh after you

in our lamentable exile,

until we may see you and remain with you!

We are in the world

and you are in our minds,

and in our hearts we embrace you,

we have you present with us.

You are stronger than a lion,

descending to the womb of the Virgin

and destroying Death,

building life in the city of gold.

Give us fellowship with Her,

in order to continue with you, sweetest Bridegroom,

who drew us out of the jaws of the devil,

our first parent, our seducer.

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