It is generally agreed that the illuminations which accompany Hildegard’s Scivias (Rupertsberg Manuscript) were either sketched and painted by her, or produced under her supervision. The image of the Church as a Bride appears periodically throughout her visionary work. In Book III, Vision 11, chap. 13, which immediately follows her description of the era of the Grey Wolf, she describes the vision that corresponds to the illumination here:
“And I saw again the figure of a woman whom I had previously seen in front of the alter that stands before the eyes of God, …but now I saw her from the waist down. And from her waist to the place that denotes the female, she had various scaly blemishes, and in that latter place was a black and monstrous head.”
The Bride who appeared in an earlier vision only from the waist up is now seen fully complete, which reflects that the last days have arrived. Importantly, Hildegard adds that by this time the Church will be “…replete with the full number of her children” (Chap. 13); it will have completed her mission of evangelization.
Hildegard explains that the individual parts of the Bride’s body, beginning with the head downwards, represent a chronological series of events leading up to the destruction of the Antichrist, who is represented by the monstrous head. She explains that between the Bride’s waist (navel) and the “place that denotes the female”, appear “various scaly blemishes.” This corresponds to the time of the Grey Wolf in which violence and social unrest persist along with the persecution of the Church:
“…Before the time in which the son of perdition will try to perfect the trick he played on the first woman, the Church will be harshly reproached for many vices, fornication and murder and rapine. (Chapt. 13).
She also explains the ultimate purpose of the violent reproach:
“For until the time of the son of perdition, who will pretend to be the man of strength, His [Christ’s] faithful members will be perfected in fortitude and He will be splendid in the justice of his righteous worshippers” (Chapt. 9).
After the era of the Grey Wolf, but before the time of the Antichrist, there will be a period of time of an unknown length in which the Church will have been purified and is pleasing to God.
The positioning of the monstrous head between the thighs of the Bride has generated a lot of lively commentary among students of Scivias. But the image’s symbolism is to be interpreted chronologically. It simply reveals that the time of the Antichrist will follow the last of the five beasts, his forerunners. The Bride’s thighs are covered in lacerations, and her knees to her ankles in blood; the persecution of Christians by the Antichrist will be less harsh at first, and progressively more deadly. Her feet are bright white, which represents the final victory of the Church after the destruction of the Antichrist.
Hildegard also sees a vision of Christ whose different parts of His body symbolically correspond to that of the Bride. For more information, explore the category, Grey Wolf, an era that I argue will soon be upon us. You can also read my interpretation of this series of St. Hildegard’s visions in my book, The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society.