Tuesday, June 14, 2022

O orzchis Ecclesia

Votive Antiphon for the Dedication of a Church (R 472va) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O orzchis Ecclesia,
armis divinis precincta
et iacincto ornata, tu es caldemia
stigmatum loifolum
et urbs scientiarum.
O, o, tu es
etiam crizanta
in alto sono et es
chorzta gemma.
O Church immense,
with arms divine enfortressed
and jacinth set: you are the sweet aroma
of peoples sealed by wounds,
and the city of all knowledge.
O, o, you are
anointed too
in soaring song, you are
a sparkling gem.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This is one of Hildegard’s most noted antiphons, because it is her only musical composition (and indeed her only piece of writing outside of the glossary) that uses words from her Lingua Ignota, her “Unknown Language.” This invented language is preserved in a glossary of some one thousand words (all nouns) in two manuscripts (the Riesencodex, fols. 461v-464v; and Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Ms. lat. qu. 674, fols. 58r-62r)—but to see how the language worked in action, we have only this antiphon for evidence. Hildegard’s invented words in this antiphon are given the following Latin glosses in two manuscripts that preserve its text (the notated version later in the Riesencodex has no glosses):
Gloss in
fol. 405va
Gloss in Stuttgart,
Cod. theol. et phil.
qt. 4 253, fol. 28r
orzchis immensa immensa “immense”
caldemia aroma aroma “aroma”
loifolum populorum populorum “of the peoples”
crizanta ornata uncta “adorned” / “anointed”
chorzta choruscans chorusca “sparkling”
Nativity, with virgin and unicorn below, from Floreffe Bible, 12th century.
Scivias 2.5:
The Orders of the Church.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 66r
When these invented words combine with the rest of the Latin text, we find a panoply of synesthetic images projecting a characteristically Hildegardian vision. The imagery is dense and cryptic, moving—as Hildegard’s poetic symbols usually do—from register to register without always betraying the connections. It draws upon the Church as the Heavenly Jerusalem, the city described in the Apocalypse of St. John as a Bride adorned, her walls set with precious gems (Rev. 21) and echoing with the heavenly symphony. This is the same towering figure of the Church presented in Scivias 2.5, immense and powerful, yet also gilded and graceful. As imagined in the illustration Hildegard designed for that vision, she appears with golden flames reaching up behind her shoulders like the crenellations of a fortress. Meanwhile, she holds at her breast Hildegard’s virgin nuns as they sing their liturgical songs, adorned like Ecclesia as brides in silver-white veils and golden coronets.

The jacinth of the antiphon is both the deep-red gem found in the breastplate of Israel’s high priest (Ex. 28:19) and the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:20), as well as the deep-purple or blue flower known as the hyacinth. Hildegard saw that blue color of hyacinth intermingled with the red glow of dawn from Ecclesia’s throat to navel in Scivias 2.5, illustrated in the manuscript image with gold, but echoed also in the deep-red cloaks of the figure of Virginitas and two of the virgin nuns on either side of her, as well as in the blue-colored vestments of a bishop (identifiable by his pallium) to the left and behind Virginitas and a nun to the right. This figure of the Church possesses both the strength of priestly authority symbolized by the jacinth gemstone and the virginal purity with which Hildegard invests hyacinth blue.[1]

The imagery of the “sparkling gem” (chorzta gemma) also helps us begin to unravel one of the antiphon’s more cryptic “unknown” lines, the caldemia / stigmatum loifolum. The glosses for caldemia and loifolum are relatively clear (“aroma” and “of the peoples”), but the Latin word in between them (stigmatum) is complicated. Stigmata are marks or brands, originally cuts made into a person to form identifying scars. They are also, as we know from the experiences of later holy people like St. Francis of Assisi, the marks of Christ’s wounds that appear in the flesh of his followers, to mark them as his own. The range of ideas that can be wrapped up in this phrase is thus diverse. At one end, you have the marks of identity with which the Church, through baptism, brands her citizens. These are fragrant, in order to announce their virtue (the odor virtutum is one of Hildegard’s recurrent images: cf. verse 2a of O ignis Spiritus paracliti; verse 6 of O Ierusalem; and verse 5 of O Ecclesia); but also to announce the particular power of virginity, channeled through the Virgin Mary (cf. O quam magnum miraculum and verse 3 of O viridissima virga) and the Virgin Church into the virgins of Hildegard’s monastery. In another vein, those marks of identity are the wounds of the martyrs, which become the redolent blooms that adorn the Church in the responsory Vos flores rosarum. Meanwhile, at the other end of the range of images, they are the scars of sin, wounds for which the Church herself supplies fragrant, medicinal balm.[2] Christ himself pleads his Father in the finale of the Ordo Virtutum that these, his wounds (vulnera mea) should be transformed so that his body might appear “full of gems” (plenum gemmarum). The polyvalent logic of Hildegard’s highly compressed visionary language forestalls any attempts to pin down just one of these meanings. They all are at play.

In fact, the very nature of language itself becomes a theme of this antiphon because of the use of words from the Lingua Ignota. It could very well serve as Exhibit A alongside Hildegard’s apologia for music in the famous Letter 23, written to defend her monastery against an interdict (a ban on sung liturgy) imposed in the last year of her life. There, Hildegard articulated an argument for the saving necessity of singing based on her view that before the Fall, Adam’s language was the powerful singing tongue of the angels. Music is the language of heaven, and the Church embodies her heavenly presence and future through singing. Michael Embach has convincingly argued that a fundamental motivation for Hildegard’s invention of the Lingua Ignota was to recapture that prelapsarian Adamic voice.[3]

This allows us then to make sense of another one of the antiphon’s potential puzzles: the Church as “the city of all knowledge.” Barbara Newman has noted, “from a prophet like Hildegard, who on principle rejected all human teaching, urbs scientiarum is an unexpectedly humanistic title for the New Jerusalem.”[4] But the restorative nature of the Lingua Ignota indicates that the “sciences” which the Church embodies are not humanistic but divine in origin. This is knowledge restored to its unfallen purity. Hildegard often writes of the confusion wrought in human knowledge by the Fall:
For the knowledge of inner sight teaches a person about divine things, though the flesh opposes it, while blinded knowledge enacts the works of night according to the serpent’s sight, which does not see the light. So too, the serpent turns as many as he can away from the works of light, just as he did with Adam when he clouded the light of living knowledge within him.
     —The Book of Divine Works 3.1.2[5]
It is the “knowledge of inner sight” that the Church contains and administers, with “the light of living knowledge” restored to her by Christ. By using the words of a new language that yearns to recapture the lost voice of primal human rationality, Hildegard’s antiphon celebrates “in soaring song” the power that the Church has to effect that restoration in her members. As Hildegard puts in another of her antiphons for the Church, O choruscans lux stellarum, they thus become “the angels’ partners and citizens with the saints.”

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: E
Range: C below the final to E an octave above
Setting: primarily syllabic with several melismas

From a musical perspective, phrases in this work are delineated primarily by the modal final and the pitch B, with two exceptions. The first is found on the second line of the transcription, which begins with G. The second appears on the second-to-the-last phrase in which D is placed on the word in. This is not especially unusual, as Hildegard often dips to the pitch below the final to open a phrase, especially when the ideas between the two are closely related.

For those who prioritize text rhythm, it will be necessary to break with the musical phrases as I have set them up. In particular, there are two instances where this is most apparent. The first concerns the text, O, O, tu es, which from a verse standpoint one might want to make O, O its own phrase. Et es on the second-to-the-last line is treated similarly. The reason for this is that F is not generally used as a grammatical marker in this mode, and by ending the phrases on E, the openings of the following lines, etiam crizanta and chorzta gemma fall on B, the secondary demarcator in this mode. My first inclination was to go with the text, but in looking at it more closely, this would have meant the use of three different musical verse markers, two of which are not the norm for E mode. Hence the decision was made to prioritize the musical outlining.

Further Resources for O orzchis Ecclesia
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 252 and 316-17.
  • Dronke, Peter. “Hildegard’s Inventions: Aspects of her Language and Imagery,” in Hildegard von Bingen in ihrem historischen Umfeld, ed. Alfred Haverkamp (Mainz: Trierer Historische Forschungen/P. von Zabern, 2000), pp. 299-315, at 306-308.
  • Higley, Sarah L. Hildegard of Bingen’s Unknown Language. An Edition, Translation, and Discussion (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), pp. 30-32.
  • Schnapp, Jeffrey. “Virgin Words: Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua Ignota and the Development of Imaginary Languages Ancient to Modern,” Exemplaria 3.2 (1991): 267-298, at 292-94.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography

[1] For a more detailed argument about Hildegard’s design of the Scivias illustrations, see Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 36-39 and 57-61 (online here); idem, “Picturing Hildegard of Bingen’s Sight: Illuminating Her Visions,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Jennifer Bain (Cambridge University Press, 2021), pp. 257-259 (online here). 
[2] See Sarah Higley, Hildegard of Bingen’s Unknown Language. An Edition, Translation, and Discussion (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), p. 31. 
[3] Michael Embach, Die Schriften Hildegards von Bingen: Studien zu ihrer Überlieferung und Rezeption im Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003), pp. 269-271. 
[4] Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Berkeley, 1987; 2nd ed., 1997), p. 204. 
[5] St. Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works, trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell (Catholic University of America Press, 2018), pp. 377-378. 

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