Hildegard was born into a family of knights in the service of the counts of Sponheim, close relatives of the Hohenstaufen emperors. Because Hildegard was a tenth child, at the age of eight Hildegard's parents sent her as a tithe to the church (as was customary in medieval times). Hildegard was put in the care of Jutta, the sister of Count Meinhard of Sponheim. On Jutta's death in 1136 Hildegard was chosen superior of the community that had grown up around Jutta at Disibodenberg, and eventually moved the community to a new monastery on the Rupertsberg at Bingen on the Rhine. In her administrative role she corresponded with Popes, Abbot Suger, Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Hildegard wrote prolifically, and much of her work survives, including accounts of her visions, music, medicine, and letters. From the time she was very young, Hildegard claimed to have visions. Her Scivias ("Know the Way"), the narrative of her visions, was richly decorated under her direction (though not by her hand?transcription assistance was provided by the monk Volmar) with pictures of the visions. Her vivid description of the physical sensations which accompanied her visions have been diagnosed by neurologists (including popular author Oliver Sacks) as symptoms of migraine. The book was celebrated in the Middle Ages and printed for the first time in Paris in 1513.
Hildegard was an unusually powerful woman for her era. The scholarly interest in women in the medieval church has led to a great interest in Hildegard, including many recordings of her music. The Ordo Virtutum ("Order of the Virtues"), sometimes referred to as an opera or an oratorio, is a sung drama for women's voices with one male part - the Devil - which she wrote for the nuns of her monastery.
Her feast is celebrated on September 17. Hildegard has been beatified, but not canonized, and is sometimes referred to as St. Hildegard.