Download Full Text (1.6 MB)


Many view Hildegard of Bingen as one of the most important female theologians of the 12th century, and her writing and sphere of influence is remarkable considering her gender. Many scholars, like Barbara Newman, Caroline Walker Bynum, and Carolyn Worman Sur, agree that Hildegard’s portrayals of God in Scivias are distinctly feminine. Scholars like Karma Lochrie, Sheryl Chen, and Flora Lewis have written on Christ’s wound as a metaphor for the womb or vulva. Yet what scholars don’t seem to focus on, as Lochrie writes in “Mystical Acts, Queer Tendencies,” is the ways that the work of many female mystics in the 12th and 13th centuries falls outside of modern conventions of normal gender and sexuality. According to Lochrie, there exists a false “master narrative” which presents mystical interactions with God as indefinitely heterosexual and sometimes even ignores or twists evidence to fit this narrative. I claim that one could consider Hildegard’s visions in Scivias “queer” due to: her focus on the physicality and femininity of Christ through the figure of Caritas, the distortion of sexual gender norms through the feminization of Christ, and the conflation of pain with love and with the female body through maternal and/or erotic metaphors. By examining the text and illustrations of Scivias and the relevant research, I explore Hildegard’s feminine depictions of God in relation to sapiental tradition, courtly love and “love noir,” and the writings of female mystics in the 12th and 13th centuries. By examining Hildegard’s work in these ways, I have found elements that defy convention and the master narrative and that may further our understanding of female mystical sexuality in the high Middle Ages.

Publication Date



hildegard of bingen, scivias, 12th century, lgbt, queer, medieval art


Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Mary C. Boyes


© The Author(s)

Queer Mysticism in the High Middle Ages: Pain, Love, Earth, and the Female Body in the Illustrations of Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias