St. Hildegard’s Curious Illuminations

Illumination from the Rupertsberg Manuscript

One of the interesting things about the illuminations that accompany the Rupertsberg manuscript of Scivias (late 12th-century), the book in which Hildegard recorded her visions, is that much of the artwork appears to contradict the text. For example, the ‘Yellow Lion’ is painted red and the ‘Pale Horse’ is kind of a brownish-green. In later manuscripts produced after her death this is not the case.

The manuscript was produced in Hildegard’s own abbey for which she was the abbess and scholars believe that the discrpancy demonstrates that Hildegard herself was either the artist that produced the illuminations or directly supervised their design.

The Pale Horse is pale because it is supposed to be extremely sickly, but the actual description of the symbolism of the horse is quite opposite:

“Another is like a pale horse; for those times will produce people who drown themselves in sin, and in their licentious and swift moving pleasures neglect all virtuous activities. And then these kingdoms will lose their ruddy strength and grow pale with the fear of ruin, and their hearts will be broken.”†

The paleness, you will notice, occurs only at the end of the era. In the beginning the horse is healthy, directing its energy towards licentiousness (sexual immorality). This era corresponds to the sexual revolution of the 1950s-1980s. You will recall that the damaging consequences of the sexual revolution on western society began to reveal themselves in the 1980s. Statistics on abortion, divorce, single-parent families, suicide, STDs (including AIDS), etc., all exploded higher as the era came to an end.

The five beasts from a 14th-century manuscript

Only Hildegard would have painted a horse that was not pale. As noted, illuminations on later manuscripts portray a white or greyish horse.

The same is the case with the Yellow Lion; it turns yellow only at the end of the era:

“Another is like a yellow lion; for this era will endure martial people, who instigate many wars but do not think of the righteousness of God in them; for those kingdoms will begin to weaken and tire, as the yellow color shows.”

This era corresponds to  the period of 1914-1945. It was an age of extreme nationalism that led to numerous genocides. As the militaristic era came to a close, the fall of the Nazis and their allies proved to be a spectacular exhibition of self-delusion and cowardice which has been well documented by historians.

I wrote The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard six years ago and the history that has unfolded since resembles events she describes in her fifth vision (Grey Wolf): migration, growing wealth inequality, sex and financial scandals in the Church, persecution, social unrest, etc.


†Quotations taken from Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Abbey of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc. Paulist Press, 1990.

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