Monastic Life at our Abbey
We, the nuns of the Abbey of St Hildegard, like all Benedictines, live by a rule, which is over 1400 years old, and goes back to St Benedict. This rule is the expression of a long monastic tradition, but also one of a very personal spiritual experience. Shaped by the love of God and a profound humanity, by a joyful paschal faith and a matter-of-fact knowledge of man, the rule is still valid today in its essential message.
Monastic, that is contemplative, secluded life, is the attempt to live in God’s presence, every day anew. That is why such a life is formed by the praise of God and by prayer. It is about bringing each day before God and sanctifying it. Seeking God therefore is the beginning and the centre of monastic life. Whoever enters a Benedictine religious house is searching for a clear answer to God’s call. In the true sense of the word, he is „called“. In this way, he promises to lead a life following the Gospel, making God the centre of his being, looking for him in every person and every event, and all of that within the community of such persons who have chosen the same path.
Benedictine life is essentially about life in a community. The monastic community sees itself as an image and a part of the church. In a community, whose life is focused on God, each member finds motivation and assistance. The community supports and helps members to come through even painful experiences on their way to God. An important help on one’s way to God is silence, which alone enables true listening. The enclosure of a monastic house seeks to protect this space for recollection. In silence, in being still and inwardly listening, one moves ever closer to God, to oneself and to one’s fellow man. This solitude before God must be endured. Only the one who has mastered such endurance with himself and before God is able to contribute to the building up of a community.
The office of leading a Benedictine community of nuns lies in the hands of an abbess. She is elected by the community and confirmed in her office by the blessing of the church. The abbess’s most important task is not the organization of the convent’s external and internal interests, but the strengthening of faith and love in the community. The abbess is the guarantor of unity in the diversity of the community. Her service lies in the readiness for dialogue with all the nuns. With all important questions and decisions she calls together the whole community for counsel.
OUR MONASTIC VOWS
After a period of probation lasting almost six years, a Benedictine nun binds herself to God and the community with three vows. With the vow of stability („stabilitas“) we commit ourselves to remain in the once chosen place and to root our life totally in God.
We do not strive to change our environment nor the external circumstances, but ourselves. With the vow of conversion of manners („conversatio morum“) we promise to live a life following the Gospel. God’s call to every Christian to be ready on an ongoing basis, to rethink and to change one’s ways is meant here.
Such a call is also an ever-new motivation, not to despair in the face of one’s own weakness, but to be prepared tirelessly to start anew. With the vow of obedience („oboedientia“), which the Benedictine takes, we enter knowingly and voluntarily into a dependency on other people, believing that we will encounter God’s will in this way.
Obedience out of love for Christ and as his disciple protects against being trapped in one’s own ideas and whims and from revolving only around oneself. By a readiness for dialogue, by listening and by being responsive to the directions of another, we make every effort to be open to God and to fellow human beings.
Apart from the most important criteria for the genuineness of a calling, the search for God, St Benedict mentioned „zeal for the work of God“ as a characteristic. Therefore worship and liturgy are at the centre of monastic life. According to St Benedict’s instructions, nothing is to be preferred to the work of God, so the entire day is structured by the liturgy of the hours. Seven times a day the community gathers in the choir for prayer: The Divine Office at the Abbey of St Hildegard is generally sung in Latin according to the church’s monastic tradition. It is in this way that our solidarity with the universal church finds expression. In the daily celebration of the Eucharist, the core of the monastic day, we consciously foster the use of Gregorian Chant, which interprets the word of God in a unique musical way and belongs to the great traditions of the Western Church.
The psalms are of fundamental significance within the Divine Office. All human feeling and experience find expression in these Old Testament songs and prayers in a singular way: praise and thanksgiving, remembering God’s deeds of salvation, trust and joy, longing for God, pain, lamentation and intercession. In this way all adversities and joys of the world, but also specific personal concerns of those close to us are brought before God.
„The monks [and the nuns] shall live by the labour of their hands“ is what St Benedict laid down in his rule. Our work, therefore, is to support the community on the one hand and on the other it has an important function in spiritual life. „Ora et labora“ – prayer and work form an inseparable unity.
First and foremost in a convent of 56 nuns (comprising five generations), 8 employees and an average of 20 guests, there is of course all the necessary work to be done which involves running a household and organizing the daily life of a community: work in kitchen and laundry, growing fruits and vegetables, taking care of the grounds and buildings, sewing and wood working. There’s also the infirmary and the administration office.
Many of our sisters lovingly perform their daily duties in all of these areas with tireless dedication. Especially those tasks, which on the outside seem rather nondescript, are the ones that support the community and profoundly hold it together. In this, a Benedictine community resembles a traditional extended family with all the daily chores and cares. In accordance with the traditions of our abbey there always are some nuns who devote their time to scholarly research on St Hildegard. Sisters of our community critically edited the main works of our convent’s patron saint. Based on these editions, further individual research work is beginning to take shape now.
Some other sisters attend to groups of visitors and Hildegard pilgrims all year round and give talks about Hildegard’s life and work or about our Benedictine life. From its earliest beginnings, monastic life was also associated with apostolic work. Recalling these old traditions, our community was able to respond to inquiries and meet new challenges in recent years. Three of our sisters are now working in pastoral care.
One is in charge of pastoral care at St Josef’s Hospital in Rüdesheim, the second is a spiritual director to Catholic chaplains in the German armed forces, and since July 2002 the third is responsible for the care of pilgrims to the shrine of St Hildegard in the former abbey church which is now the parish church of St Hildegard at Eibingen.
THE ABBEY SHOP
Our community supports itself directly from the income of the Abbey’s businesses. A team of four sisters and two employees works hard in our bookshop, doing their best to offer our visitors all that a sophisticated customer with intellectual and spiritual interests might be looking for these days: religious books, selected literature, guiding and counselling books, cards, craft items, ceramics, icons and calendars. A wide range of goods invites the visitor to linger and browse, and there is opportunity for personal contact and conversation. Ordering goods from home is also possible – by telephone, fax, e-mail or via the Internet.
THE ARTS AND CRAFTS WORKSHOPS
Additionally, the arts and crafts workshops make an important contribution to the livelihood of our community. Our master goldsmith makes sacred vessels as well as jewelry of any kind (also by individual order). Customers are also especially interested in the reworking of items. In the ceramics and pottery studios, one finds a large selection of reliefs and sculptures as well as many items of practical use from the potter’s wheel. Special orders and requests are individually designed and produced.
Our restoration workshop for papers and documents from ecclesiastical archives restores old manuscripts, incunabula and books. The workshop was established and equipped in 1973-74 at the request of the German Bishops‘ Conference and works exclusively for the diocesan archives of the 23 German dioceses. Unfortunately we are unable to take on private restoration work, but would be happy to give advice and refer you to other restoration experts.
THE ABBEY’S GUEST QUARTERS
Hospitality is one of the main basic values of Benedictine life. St Benedict asks of us that „all guests who present themselves be welcomed as Christ“ (RB 53:1). Therefore guests are always welcome here. All are invited to pray with us, to enter into conversation with us or spend some time here in silence and reflection. Denomination or ideological background are of no importance to us when we receive guests.
People of the most diverse origins meet here in their mutual search for the sources of life. Whoever comes here can, within certain limits, join us in our monastic daily rhythm for up to one week, in exceptional cases even a little longer. One of our sisters would always be available to lend an ear for counseling.
The daily rate for overnight accommodation and three meals is € 65.00 Euro. Should you be interested in staying as a guest, you can contact us by letter, fax or e-mail.
FRIENDS OF THE ABBEY OF ST HILDEGARD
An association of Friends of the Abbey of St Hildegard, which was founded in October 2001 by 40 public figures and has now already more than 200 members, have made it their task to support the cultural, spiritual and pastoral work of our convent in non-material as well as financial ways. These include:
- Promoting liturgy and Gregorian Chant and conveying these in our times;
- Preserving Benedictine values and passing them on;
- Offering hospitality with days of reflection, retreats and spiritual direction;
- Preserving St Hildegard of Bingen’s heritage and supporting the research of her work;
- Preserving and caring for the abbey church and monastic buildings, which have been put under a preservation order.
We would like to invite you to join our circle of friends. We are open to anyone, for „where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I (Christ) in the midst of them.“ (Mt 18:20)
The Friends of the Abbey regularly organize talks, group discussions, concerts and other events. These events always offer opportunities to meet and exchange views. We would be pleased to send you the annual programme and – should you wish to become a member – the necessary application form.
Our Oblate Community
Our oblates are a group of men and women – married and single – who, within the framework of their daily lives in the world, find direction for their individual situations in the Rule of St Benedict. With an act of oblation they promise to affiliate themselves with our monastic community and share in our prayer and mission.
According to their circumstances, oblates participate in as much of the daily office as is possible for them. Our monastery offers retreat days to our oblate community three times a year, regular contact with newsletters and continuous spiritual direction by our Oblate Director, Sr Lydia Stritzl. If you are interested in finding out more about our oblate community, please contact Sr Lydia Stritzl on:
ph: ++49 6722 499-114 or by e-mail :email@example.com