Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Spiritui sancto

Responsory at First Vespers for St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgin-Martyrs of Cologne (D 167r, R 471v)
by Hildegard of BingenBack to Table of Contents
R. Spiritui sancto
honor sit, qui in mente Ursule
virginis virginalem turbam
velut columbas collegit.
Unde ipsa patriam suam sicut Abraham reliquit.

R. Et etiam propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi

V. Nam iste castissimus et aureus exercitus
in virgineo crine mare transivit.
O quis umquam talia audivit?

R. Et etiam propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi

Gloria Patri et Filio
et Spiritui sancto.

R. Et etiam propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi
R. Honor to the Holy Spirit,
who in the Virgin Ursula’s mind
a virginal brood has gathered
like doves.
So too she’s left her homeland like another Abraham.

R. And to embrace the Lamb,
a husband’s troth
she has cast off.

V. For that golden troop so chaste
has crossed the sea with virgin tresses.
O who has ever heard of such a thing?

R. And to embrace the Lamb,
a husband’s troth
she has cast off.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit.

R. And to embrace the Lamb,
a husband’s troth
she has cast off.
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

As this responsory tracks Ursula’s virginal mission, we glimpse some of the ways in which Hildegard configured her early medieval model in order to track her own life’s journey. The repetendum affirms the central choice that defines the virgin’s office: the rejection of a human husband in exchange for betrothal to Christ (cf. verse 6 of O dulcissime amator). But for Ursula, the rejection of her arranged marriage was only the beginning of an inspired plan to bear witness to the glory of her true Bridegroom—a witness paid in blood in several other pieces of this Office. Hildegard, too, understood the community of virgins gathered around her as a prophetic mission inspired by the Spirit and the Living Light. Moreover, in the verse, she allusively parallels her choice to move her community from the Disibodenberg to the Rupertsberg with Ursula and her companions’ sea-borne pilgrimage from Britain to Rome. When in her last years Hildegard recalled the difficulties that accompanied that move, she explicitly compared herself to Moses leading the children of Israel across the Red Sea.[1] Furthermore, as Newman notes (Symphonia, p. 308), the “virgin tresses” (in virgineo crine) may perhaps refer to the distinctive way Hildegard’s nuns wore their hair on high feast days, like that of St. Ursula (see the Commetary to O nobilissima viriditas).

Yet alongside the Exodus allusion of the “golden army” crossing the sea, Hildegard explicitly names Abraham as the model for Ursula’s pilgrimage. This is because Abraham serves also as a model of the virgin’s renunciation of the lusts of the flesh in several of Hildegard’s later writings. In another autobiographical passage collected into her Vita, she notes, “Abraham, however, was given increase, because, being obedient to God, he strove with all his might against the clamourings of the flesh.”[2] Likewise, she draws a typological connection between circumcision (which she says represents “the spiritual life”) and Christ’s virginal humanity in the Liber Divinorum Operum 3.2.8: “For as the dawn comes before the sun, so in the sign of circumcision, in which he ground away lust, Abraham preceded the Son of God’s humanity.”[3] These late parallels bolster William Flynn’s argument for dating Hildegard’s office for St. Ursula to the last decade of her life.[4] Finally, in the opening verse of its great hymn, Cum vox sanguinis, Hildegard’s invokes Abraham as a prophet-visionary of the Trinity (through the Three Visitors at the Oak of Mamre in Genesis 18), among a whole line of Old Testament types that merge Ursula’s martyrdom with Christ’s sacrifice and the heavenly banquet.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

A mode
Range: E below the final to A an octave above
Setting: primarily neumatic with several melismas

Spiritui sancto opens with the salutation, while the second phrase begins with a similar melody and then diverges, reaching to the high A on the word, mente (“mind”). This same opening device appears throughout.

Most of the phrases are outlined by the modal final, A. Many of the phrases are quite long, so one would want to consider perhaps a tempo that would enable them to be sung on one breath. As is our practice, some are broken into two lines so as not to crowd the score, and a tick barline has been inserted to mark the end of the phrase. Whenever possible for long phrases, we try to break the line on E, which is the second most significant tone in the mode.

Most of the phrasing is fairly regular in this piece, though there is one interesting place in the verse where the musical grammar diverges from the textual syntax. On page 3 of the transcription, it makes sense to group o quis umquam talia audivit together (line 2). Musically, however, the phrase that begins on the first line should end, by the way Hildegard uses the tonal markers here, after “o” on line 2. I have inserted a tick barline as a guide.

The piece employs A as the final, but it is likely transposed, given the number of B flats that are signed in the sources. As usual, we only place flats where they are indicated in the sources, and so singers will need to make interpretive decisions. Given the way the flats are deployed differently in the manuscripts, it would appear that certain flats are intended to be continued until the end of a word or phrase. The same could apply to repeated melodic segments in which a flat was signed earlier.

Further Resources for Spiritui sancto
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 230 and 307-308.
  • 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.
  • 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


[1] Vita S. Hildegardis 2.5, trans. Anna Silvas in Hildegard & Jutta: The Biographical Sources (Brepols, 1998 / Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), pp. 164-65. 
[2] Vita S. Hildegardis 2.14, trans. Silvas, p. 176. 
[3] Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works, trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell (Catholic University of America Press, 2018), p. 367; Liber diuinorum operum, ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke (Brepols, 1996), p. 362. See also 3.4.10, trans. Campbell, p. 410; Latin text, p. 400. 
[4] William Flynn, “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. 


  1. When was this piece of music originally written?

    1. We don't know exactly when it was written, but we can give a range. Hildegard did not start writing music until the 1140's, and her first "collection" were the Scivias songs, which do not include this responsory. Sabina Flanagan believed that Hildegard wrote at least some of the pieces dedicated to St. Ursula before 1153, when Elisabeth of Schönau made public her own visionary revelation of new details concerning the St. Ursula legend (details not included in Hildegard's pieces). William Flynn, however, has made the compelling argument that, though Hildegard might have composed some pieces in the 1150's or 1160's, that the final form of the Office for St. Ursula crystallized around 1170-1174.

  2. Hi! I was wondering if you knew where I could get the neumes version of Spiritu Sancto. Thank you

    1. This responsory survives in both major manuscripts of Hildegard's music, which have been digitized and can be access at the following links:
      Dendermonde, fol. 167r
      Riesencodex, fol. 471v