Hildegard von Bingen

Deus enim in prima, antiphon for Saint Ursula & her Companions

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    Abbess Hildegard of Bingen cared for the souls of several communities of religious women over the course of her life; she thus had a special and lifelong concern of sexual and gender issues. She herself, and the nuns under her care, would have made vows of perpetual chastity, wedding themselves instead to the Lord Christ. At the same time, as members of the generally patriarchal Medieval Church, she and they could have still been spiritually subject to male priests for confession. Hildegard, though a powerful advocate for speaking God's word to powerful men even though a woman, also participated in what she saw as a natural order among the sexes. One particularly strong canvas for expression of her beliefs was the contemporary devotion to St. Ursula and her 11,000 companions. Ursula, as Germans of Hildegard's time believed, was an English princess who went on pilgrimage to Rome to escape losing her virginity to a German fiancé. Ursula's devotion attracted a huge following, and she and all 11,000 of her procession were martyred when she returned to Cologne. The twelfth century legends claim that not only women who similarly cherished their sacred virginity followed Ursula, but also men of pious (and also virginal) disposition, joining the movement and caring for all of the Christian throng.

    All of these tensions shudder beneath the surface of Hildegard's otherwise brief and simple antiphon Deus enim in prima. Hildegard almost certainly composed both the Latin text and the accompanying chant music for a monastic Office to celebrate the feast of St. Ursula (Oct. 21). Deus enim in prima is the fourth of a series of eight antiphons for Ursula that are both musically and textually linked. De patria etiam, the antiphon immediately preceding Deus enim in prima, introduces the religious men who followed the procession of virgins, ministering to them; Deus enim in prima explains their presence in terms both more concrete and more mystical. Hildegard's text reminds listeners that the "first woman" (Eve) was given a man (Adam) to help and sustain her. Presumably, this antiphon makes the theological leap between Eve and Ursula, between Adam and her righteous male followers. Hildegard's musical setting for the text is concise, but succinct: it revolves completely around the E mode (Phrygian), though in her own flavor of the mode, centering on the pitches E and B rather than the more common Gregorian foci of E, G, A, and C. Her melody is pared down to the modal basics.

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    Deja Vu
    Fine Classics
    Fine Tune
    Harmonia Mundi
    Celestial Harmonies
    Focus Distrbution Group