Wednesday, August 1, 2018

O rubor sanguinis

Antiphon in evangelio, likely for the Magnificat at First Vespers for St. UrsulaBack to Table of Contents
and the 11,000 Virgin-Martyrs of Cologne (D 167r, R 471vb), by Hildegard of Bingen
O rubor sanguinis,
qui de excelso illo fluxisti
quod divinitas tetigit: tu flos es
quem hyems de flatu serpentis
numquam lesit.
O bloody red
that flowed from up that height
divinity has touched: a bloom you are
that winter with the serpent’s blast
has never marred.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This starkly imagistic antiphon makes no specific reference to the story of St. Ursula and her companions. Instead, it describes their identities as virgin martyrs with a web of symbolic connections that mark it as a peculiarly Hildegardian piece. The specific redness (rubor) of the martyr’s blood flowing into flower recalls the redolent rosebuds of her antiphon for martyrs from the Scivias symphony, Vos flores rosarum. But it is the additional, virginal dimensions that give this antiphon its unique spin. Fittingly for an antiphon paired with the Magnificat, this piece’s bloom echoes clearly that of the Virgin Mary, especially from the short antiphon Hodie aperuit nobis, where her flower blooms to open the gate “choked” (suffocavit) by the serpent. In the antiphon above, Hildegard keeps the metaphor a little bit more contained by imbuing the serpent’s hiss with the cold, withering winter wind. But that hiss will still be choked (suffocatum est) by the “pearls” of Ursula and her companions—their virginal bodies—in the last verse of the sequence, O Ecclesia.

Echoes and reflections of Hildegard’s pieces to the Virgin suffuse many of the pieces in her Office for St. Ursula, to the point where the individual early medieval noblewoman named Ursula—if she ever even existed—is subsumed beneath the symbolic waves of her blood (to invoke another image from Vos flores rosarum). In both her virginity and her martyrdom, she becomes so utterly identified with, at turns, Mary, the Church, and Christ, that Ursula herself disappears behind the mask of one caught up in the drama of salvation.

One of the roles she plays in that drama, hinted at through verbal echo alone in this antiphon, is is that of prophetic witness. The “height [that] divinity has touched” (de excelso…quod divinitas tetigit) is, in its clearest signification, the Father’s heart from which the Word sprang forth, first creating and then incarnate, as described in the Marian antiphon, O splendidissima gemma. But the phrase also echoes “the mysteries of the mountain that touched heaven” (mistica montis qui celum tetigit) from the antiphon for the prophets and patriarchs, O spectabiles viri. The opening verses of Hildegard’s hymn for the Office of St. Ursula, Cum vox sanguinis, make the connection more explicit, for there the voice of Ursula’s blood resounds in heaven, and “ancient prophecy” (antiqua prophetia) responds to accept its drenching sacred touch. Her blood is revelatory.

The pathway along which Ursula is sublimated into a universal, unveiling archetype in salvation history is here the pathway along which her blood’s redness flows all the way up to divinity’s height. But it is also a pathway that flows back down, to allow other individual actors to be joined into her archetype. For Hildegard, Ursula’s power as a virgin-martyr is exemplary, and as such, one that can be shared. It is then no surprise to notice that Ursula’s power is often Hildegard’s own—as a virgin flower, she withstands the wintry blasts of the devil’s devices, in order that her voice too might proclaim the divinity’s mysteries.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

D mode
Range: C below the final to F and octave and a third above
Setting: syllabic with one long melisma

This short piece is fairly straightforward. Hildegard employs both the modal final and A, the secondary significant tone in this mode, as grammatical markers. She begins the last phrase on D, but numquam. is outlined by B and A. Differences between the sources are minimal.

Further Resources for O rubor sanguinis
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 232 and 309.
  • Berschin, Walter. “Eine Offiziendichtung in der Symphonia Hildegards von Bingen: Ursula und die Elftausend Jungfrauen (carm. 44).” In Hildegard of Bingen: The Context of her Thought and Art. Ed. Charles Burnett and Peter Dronke. London: The Warburg Institute, 1998, pp. 157-62.
  • Flanagan, Sabina. “Die Heiligen Hildegard, Elisabeth, Ursula und die elftausend Jungfrauen.” In Tiefe des Gotteswissens - Schönheit der Sprachgestalt bei Hildegard von Bingen. Ed. Margot Schmidt. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: frommann-holzboog, 1995, pp. 209-22.
  • Flynn, William. “Hildegard (1098-1179) and the Virgin Martyrs of Cologne.” In The Cult of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. Ed. Jane Cartwright. University of Wales Press, 2016, pp. 93-118.
  • Flynn, William. “Reading Hildegard of Bingen’s Antiphons for the 11,000 Virgin-Martyrs of Cologne: Rhetorical ductus and Liturgical Rubrics.” Nottingham Medieval Studies 56 (2012), pp. 174-89, at 177, 180, and 182.
  • Walter, Peter. “Die Heiligen in der Dichtung der hl. Hildegard von Bingen.” In Hildegard von Bingen, 1179-1979. Festschrift zum 800. Todestag der Heiligen. Ed. Anton Ph. Brück. Mainz: Selbstverlag der Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 1979, pp. 211-37, at 223-29.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography