Hildegard von Bingen; St. Catherine of Bologna

Hildegard von Bingen

Convent Elbingen, 1178

Our northern window brought us the Office,
voices of men sweetened by sacrifice,
but even they believed women are less.
Our southern window brought us the sky’s light,
and, in moments between work and prayer,
calls and laughter from the world we had left.
Pledged as my parents’ tithe to live thy praise,
I praise thee for freeing me as a girl
from a wife-mother’s ordinary chores.

I thank thee for the gift of Living Light
that touched flame to a young novice’s mind
and made me understand what stands in books.
I thank thee for the ways my visions show,
Enkindling Fire, Creator-Sustainer.
For the abbey given me and my sisters,
Alpha-Omega, Soaring Harmony.
For the music I composed by Matins light,
hearing the birds, the roosters, and my quill.

I have praised thee every hour, in spite of men.
Thou art the source of my strength and courage.
I put no trust in earthly potentates,
those men who are walking westward as I am.
As soon as they stop breathing, they are clay,
all their important plans quickly forgotten.
I praise thee even now, despite the Bishops’
denying us music and sacraments,
to break my will. (Assholes.) My soul, sing praise.



St. Catherine of Bologna

ca. 1453

Age fourteen, I was sent to serve at court.
I begged to be freed from that privilege
into the privilege of poverty:
to embrace penance and constant fasting,
invited with my sisters to the dance
of chaste devotion. Thus I prayed at court,
listening, over my embroidery.
My maiden heart beat with a constant plea:
Show me thy face, Lord; Lord, show me thy face.

A dove released, I flew to the Poor Clares.
Then came years when my doubt tempted my faith
with remembered footmen; years when virtue
promised no reward other than itself;
years when the logic of the passing world
which jibes at chastity and devotion
rubbed my nose in absurd virginity.
I kept my lamp lighted for the Bridegroom.
Show me thy face, my Lord, my love, I prayed.

But I spent my work-hours with caught breath,
focused on the two hairs’ breadth of my brush
bringing light and color to the margins
of a book of the hours; or I painted large
iconic portraits of Mother and Child
with golden halos; or on the violette,
with closed eyes, bowed harmonies of the chant.
At last, forgetting to pray Show thy face,
I glimpsed thy face in the worship of art!