In 1151, Richardis was elected abbess of the monastery of Bassum,* far from Rupertsberg. Hildegard wrote to the Marchioness von Stade, attempting to use their common motherly feelings for the nun to persuade her to prevent the appointment. This letter is particularly notable because it is one of the only ones in which Hildegard spoke almost entirely as herself rather than blending her voice with the prophetic Living Light,** making this possibly the most personal of her letters.
She took up strong prophetic language once more in her letters to the Archbishop of Mainz (her own superior within the Church), the Archbishop of Bremen, and possibly her now lost letter to Pope Eugenius concerning the affair. She argued that the election had “no weight in God’s eyes,” and implied that those involved were guilty of simony.*** In this case she may not have meant that literally, intending rather to say that any election against the will of God (as she believed this one to be) could be equated with the buying of Church offices.
All of this, however, was not enough to keep Richardis with her. Both the pope and her own archbishop refused to take Hildegard’s side in the matter, and Richardis took up her duties in 1152. Hildegard wrote one letter to her favourite nun, showing her grief that they had been parted. Not long afterwards, she received a letter from the Archbishop of Bremen telling of his sister’s death. Hildegard’s reply to him showed no more anger, only grief, consolation, and vindication. She had been proved right. The election was against God’s will. But Richardis was gone.
*Richardis’ niece Adelheid was also elected abbess of another monastery at the same time. Despite the fact that Richardis was of age and Adelheid was not (and may still have been a novice at the time), it was Richardis for whom Hildegard fought.
**As many scholars have noted, Hildegard used three voices in her visionary letters: 1) the voice of the Living Light, 2) her own voice as Hildegard of Rupertsberg, and 3) a blend of the two. She seems to have purposefully confused the issue on several occasions, leaving in doubt just who was speaking.
***The buying of Church offices. A grave sin, and a serious accusation.
323 - to the Marchioness von Stade
18 – from the Archbishop of Mainz (demand that Hildegard surrender Richardis)
18r – to the Archbishop of Mainz (Hildegard’s reply)
4 – from Pope Eugenius (reply to a now lost letter from Hildegard)
12 – to the Archbishop of Bremen (Hildegard’s request that he intervene on her behalf)
64 – to Abbess Richardis
13 – from the Archbishop of Bremen (on Richardis’ death)
13r – to the Archbishop of Bremen (Hildegard’s reply)
Baird, Joseph L. and Radd K. Ehrman, trans. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, 1998, 2004. [Note: parts of these can be read on Google Books here, here, and here.]
Flanagan, Sabina. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179: a Visionary Life. London: Routledge, 1989. [Note: Some excerpts from this book can be found here.]