SYMPHONIA SERIES LIBRARY
O viridissima virga
Song to the Virgin
“For in you a beautiful flower bloomed, which gave scent to all the spices which were dry. And they all appeared in full freshness.”
|FORM||Song to the Virgin|
|SOURCE||Riesencodex f.474 recto-f.474 verso|
|RANGE||D4 to F5|
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Text and Translation
O viridissima virga, ave,
Cum venit tempus
Nam in te floruit pulcher flos
Et illa apparuerunt omnia
Unde celi dederunt rorem super gramen
Deinde facta est esca hominibus
Hec omnia Eva contempsit.
Nunc autem laus sit Altissimo.
Hail! O greenest branch
When the time came
For in you
And they all appeared
Whence the heavens poured dew over the grass
From there food for humans was made,
All these things Eve scorned.
But now let there be praise to the Most High.
* Edit made on line 16 on the word “est” from A (in manuscript) to G for greater musical sense. (This seems like a simple scribal error.)
This song appears with the rubric: To Saint Mary, but it’s musical form does not correspond to any specific liturgical form. That is, it is not clear what specific function it may have served in the Hildegard’s religious experience.
Barabara Newman describes this as a “Song to the Virgin.” It has uneven poetic lines within the stanzas, and has a sort of through-composed quality, without any kind of overt organization.
It is rather a uniquely invented love song, a creation unto its own.
Newman, Barbara. Symphonia, 2nd Edition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988).
Musical transcription by Allison Mondel
Latin translation by Hugh McElroy
© Eya Medieval Music
Manuscript Source Image
Embodiment. Surrender. Divine manifestation.
The joy of sacred earthliness.
A Meditation on “O viridissima virga”
Like the Song of Songs, this song sings of earthly pleasures made sacred. It’s green, earthiness hearkens to the very “earthliness” embodied by the Virgin. The images conjured by Hildegard’s visio-imagination symbolizes an inner freshness that awakens us to our own “earthly” senses.
What do you behold in Mary? For a long time, she was a distant stranger to me, too perfect, too dogmatic, and bound away in mystery. But look more closely. Or rather, come closer. Her process is that of the Moon, the great mirror, the sacred, deeply loving Illuminator, revealing what is to be treasured within ourselves, as well as that which has pulled away from Love and longs to return.
In this song, she is the greenest branch: that which is most fecund in mind, body, and spirit. Mary has made herself available, the most “in surrender” for the workings of the Divine. And through her surrender to Love, she is then the most receptive to Love’s plan for her: the vessel for Divinity made manifest on Earth. The perfect example of sacred creativity: the divine manifested on the material plane. And it is through her very humanness that this is even possible. Just like us.
Hildegard evokes the symbolic state of viriditas, or what I call “sacred aliveness.” She upholds Mary’s example of availability, her inviolate devotion, her sacrifice, and her singular sacred will to be the vessel for Love.
The result of this devotion is the template of our own devotion. How we are made glad, made fecund, made divine in our willingness to vessel Love. And in this song, we raise our gladness for our capacity for become a sacred meeting place of heaven and earth. Mary shows us how. And she shows us who we really are: worthy, capable, and sacred in the eyes of Love.
And there is a great surplus for this ultimate surrender: all of creation benefits! The saints are illuminated, the birds are safe in their nesting place, and humanity is nourished by the acceptance of Love at work in our lives (!). This is the process of an internal eucharist: receiving the Divine into our own hearts, imbibing this wisdom of sacred creativity, and ultimately sharing our own gifts with the world.
What this really means is that our individual acceptance of our creative powers, when offered to the Divine, empower and uplift the collective, as well as fostering our own, deep, personal gladness for life and living in communion with Love.
This song asks:
How will you be available for the Divine? Can you delight in your own earthliness? Are you willing to be a vessel for manifesting the Divine right here, in your own life, and for the world who needs it?
A note on Eve:
It is a Hildegardian trademark to include a word about Eve and the consequences of The Fall in almost all of the songs she devotes to Mary. These phrases are like an illogical interruption in the river of light enfolding Mary. So without wandering into the theological weeds (and assuming my own personal opinions are yours), I do want to invite you to pay attention…
The process of Eve is much more vital, interesting, and transformative at our present time than it was in the 12th century. Which means we have a number of interpretative and alchemical options from which to choose. So consider Eve: what is she doing in this song? How will she be represented by you? Is she merely tacked on at the end as some bitter afterthought, or can she be woven into the fabric of our human story, reclaimed with understanding, compassion, and wisdom? And like Mary, what is she illuminating for you?
I believe we can use this music as a vehicle of healing the greater sacred wound of the Feminine. Anything is possible. Just ask Love how She wants to use you as you contemplate—and are used by—this very special song.
– Allison Mondel
Director, Eya Medieval Music