After two failed attempts to visit the Bingen Stadtsbibliothek and managing to contract some mild sort of German plague, it was another day where adventures in the greater Rheinland were simply not going to take place. Over the past couple of days I’ve transcribed three antiphons, so today I began more concentrated work on O rubor sanguinis, one of the antiphons for St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.
O rubor sanguinis,
qui de excelso illo fluxisti
quod divinitas tetigit:
tu flos es
quem hyems de flatu serpentis
[O redness of blood, / you flowed from that lofty height / that Divinity touched: / you are a flower / that the winter of the serpent’s breath / has never harmed. (trans. Barbara Newman)]
St. Ursula was a British princess who ended up in an arranged marriage to a pagan prince. A devout Catholic, she was very unhappy about this and managed to delay the marriage for three years by making a pilgrimage to Rome. She took with her ten female (virgin) companions, who in turn each brought a thousand extra virginal handmaids with them. Ursula also brought an extra thousand, just for good measure. All was grand, until one day St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins (as they came to be known, they would actually number 11,011 but that doesn’t have a catchy ring to it) crossed paths with Attila the Hun. As you may have suspected, things did not go very well. Attila demanded that Ursula become his concubine, she refused, and the entire company was martyred.
It can be inferred that Hildegard was first introduced to the legend of St. Ursula fairly early on while she was living in the Disibodenberg monastery. About a hundred years prior, workmen uncovered bones in a Roman cemetery which were taken to be those of St. Ursula and her companions, and the Disibodenberg monastery acquired some as relics. (It was later discovered that the bones of men were among them, so the likelihood of the remains actually belonging to St. Ursy and her 11,000 is fairly small. One of Hildegard’s contemporaries, Elizabeth of Schönau, would disagree, but that’s another story.) Hildegard saw St. Ursula’s devoted preservation of her virginity as parallel to her own monastic vows, and most of the music she wrote for the Feast of the 11,000 draws heavily on this connection.
The musical choices I made here are based on the following:
- The text – the meaning, flow, and rhythm of the words
- Identification and analysis of recurrent musical motives
- Tendencies of individual pitches
- the shapes of the neumes themselves.
On a completely different note, I’ve found several references in secondary sources to one of Hildegard’s remedies known as “flu powder”. Apparently, there are six different ways to consume said concoction to treat specific cold symptoms. Unfortunately, these sources don’t have the complete recipe and of the two ingredients I’ve been able to translate, I could only find one – ground nutmeg. Hopefully my (successful!) visit to the Stadtbibliothek on Monday can provide me with the primary sources – the Causae et curae and the Physica – and the full ingredient list.