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St. Hildegard, newest church doctor, inspires the faith for 800 years.

by Electra Draper, The Denver Post

Saints alive — St. Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine nun who lived in medieval Germany, speaks loudly and clearly 800 years later to a Boulder playwright and musician. The 12th-century mystic and scholar has been Jeannine Goode-Allen's muse and spiritual guide for almost three decades. Goode-Allen has celebrated St. Hildegard's works with a play, architectural models, stained glass, an herbal laboratory, a tap dance and other works. Much of it will be on display Oct. 16-20 in a Denver exhibit, "St. Hildegard's Journey Through the Senses," at Creator Mundi Gallery.

The power to inspire and teach Catholics for centuries after death is one mark of a saint, and Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday elevated St. Hildegard to the rarest of saintly company — naming her and St. John of Avila as two of only 35 doctors of the church in 2,000 years.

A church doctor's writings and other works are considered of universal importance to Catholics. Benedict has called St. Hildegard "perennially relevant" and "an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music."

St. Hildegard joins the ranks of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bede the Venerable and other giants of Catholicism, including three other women — all named since 1970.

Goode-Allen expects kSt. Hildegard will inspire her for the rest of her life.

"There's no end to St. Hildegard," she said. "You can go deeper and deeper."

For Goode-Allen, who grew up Catholic, St. Hildegard proved to be the answer to questions about her own place in the Church. She once took her list of concerns to theologian Matthew Fox, then a Catholic priest — later expelled from the Dominican Order in 1993 for some unorthodox beliefs by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope.

"I had so many questions that weren't getting answered. Where do I fit in as a woman — and all those 20-something questions," she said. "All the questions I had came out of my mouth."

Fox's short response to Goode-Allen: "Forget the hierarchy. Do you know St. Hildegard of Bingen?"

On St. Hildegard, even the pope and Fox can agree. She is said to be one of Benedict's personal favorites.

"One of the first things that drew me to her is that she lived to be 81 in the 12th century," Goode-Allen said. "She started having visions at age 3. She had this beautiful, artistic sense in everything she did. She built monasteries. She was an abbess. She composed music. She healed thousands of people using the plants, minerals and the healing capacity of the natural world. And everybody listened to her — peasants, the emperor, the pope."

When Goode-Allen joined a choir, she found that St. Hildegard's compositions — music and lyrics — had a profound effect.

"When I started singing her music, things changed for me," she said. "I had more energy. I felt more joyous. I was alive."

For many, St. Hildegard represents rising above social limits placed on women. And her works reflect a reverence for the Virgin Mary and for the power of the natural world.

"As the Creator loves Creation, so Creation loves the Creator," St. Hildegard wrote. "The entire world has been embraced by this kiss.God has gifted Creation with everything that is necessary."

St. Hildegard and her books, letters and diverse works have shown Goode-Allen that faith makes all things possible. She calls her arts productions company "Viriditas," an expression Hildegard made up combining Latin words to describe the greenness and vitality of nature as it reflects the divine power of God.

Goode-Allen's multimedia musical play, "Feathers on the Breath of God," staged last year in Boulder, is a story of a timeless connection between two women. It's also slated to run next July 15-21 at the Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins.

"I really want to help people manifest their most creative self. That's what St. Hildegard so beautifully showed me how to do," Goode-Allen said.

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