[Kloster Rupertsberg, 17th century, source: Wikimedia Commons]
This particular man had at one point in his life been excommunicated.** The nuns were certain the man had been reconciled to the Church before his death and therefore could be buried in holy ground. The clergy of the diocese of Mainz, Hildegard’s superiors, were not so certain and ordered the body dug up. Hildegard, however, refused to do so on the basis of a vision and her community was placed under interdict.***
Though the community complied with the interdict, Hildegard soon pleaded with the clergy in Mainz to restore the sacraments and the divine office to them. Her words make clear that she found the loss of communion a blow, but that the loss of music was a heavier burden to bear, the denial of which she almost went so far as to call a sin. Her attempt failed.
Her friend Philip, Archbishop of Cologne provided a witness to the fact that the man had been absolved and managed to lift the interdict for a brief time, but a letter from Christian, Archbishop of Mainz, who had been absent on pilgrimage to Rome reinstated it once more. After an exchange of letters showing that her attempt to force the issue with her prophetic status had failed, Hildegard took a different tack. Witnesses were found proving that the man in question was not excommunicate at the time of his death. The interdict was lifted in March 1179. Hildegard died in September of that year, six months later.
*I say magistra because she technically wasn’t an abbess.
**Literally, put out of communion. At this time, an excommunicated person was cut off from the Church and denied the right to participate in public worship and communion. They could not partake of any of the sacraments and were denied burial in holy ground. It was not permanent, though one had to repent and be absolved of one’s sin in order to be reconciled to the Church.
***Interdict is similar to excommunication. In this case the community of nuns was denied both communion and the right to sing the divine office.
Letter 23 - to the Prelates of Mainz
Letter 24 - to Archbishop Christian of Mainz
Letter 24r - from Archbishop Christian of Mainz
Baird, Joseph L. and Radd K. Ehrman, trans. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, Volume I. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, 1998, 2004. [Note: parts of this volume can be read on Google Books here]
Flanagan, Sabina. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179: a Visionary Life. London: Routledge, 1989. [Note: Some excerpts from this book can be found here.]
Klostermodelle Rupertsberg - schnitzler-aachen.de [A model of the Rupertsberg monastery. Site is in German.]