Herrad of Hohenbourg
(Herrad of Landsberg)
Philosophy of religion, Philosophy of education

Kate Lindemann's 

Women Philosophers


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Herrad of Hoehenbourg or Herrad of Landsberg Concerning the second name listed here: It was once thought that Herrard came from a powerful noble family in Landsberg but that is now questioned. Still there are older reference works that call her Herrad of Landsberg.


  • ca. 600's - an Augustinian monastery of St. Odile was founded at Hohenbourg, in Alsace, near Strausbourg.
  • ca 1147 ?- Frederick Barbarossa (Red Beard) appointed a relative, Relinda, as abbess of this monastery. The monastery followed the Rule of St. Augustine and so its members were Canonesses, rather than nuns.
  • 1152 - Frederick I was elected King of Germany and crowned Holy Roman Emperor on June 18, 1155. He continued his support of the monastery. It became quite rich and powerful. It was a center of learning and had a school for the daughters of the area nobility. Herrad of Hoehenbourg joined this monastery and became a cannoness of St. Augustine. We know little of her early life but since she became abbess of the monastery at St. Odile in 1176, it assumed that she came from a noble family since it would be most unusual for someone from a family of serfs to hold such an important position or to have as much education as Herrad of Hoehenbourg appears to have had.
  • 1170's - the abbess Relinda, who had been appointed by Frederick, died. Herrad of Hoehenbourg was selected to be the new abbess, an important social as well as religious position in 12th centruy Europe. Herrad of Hoehenbourg was an able administrator and she had the continued favor of Frederick.She offered the land and buildings for the building of a Premonstratensian priory of men she established Augustinian monks in a nearby foundationShe established Augustinian monks in a nearby foundation.Both these foundations ministered to the spiritual needs of the Cannonesses of St. Odile, a community which continued to grow and which contiued to provide schooling and sometimes boarding for members of the nobility.

As head of the monastery, Herrad of Hoehenbourg set the tone. She wanted the women to be well grounded and their prayer and devotion to be supported by solid theological teachings. She introduced the study of newer theologians and spiritual writers such as Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Lombard and Peter Comestor as well as the older theologians and spiritual writers.

She may have been able to do this because her own education was both broad and deep. (She produced an encyclopedic overview of salvation history from the creation of the world to contemporary time.)

Herrad of Hoehenbourg is best known for her Hortus deliciarum (Garden of Delight) which offered theology in words and pictures, poetry and hymns to be used for meditation - and perhaps by the lay students in the school. The work was illustrated with drawings and tables and rubrics (directions for the order of service) were given and in some cases German translations of the Latin texts were included - something that makes scholars think that the work was used in the school among students who were not yet proficient in Latin.

SPECIAL NOTE: The monastic tradition in Europe has a long tradition of lectio divina as a meditation form. Lectio divina uses all the aspects of the mind to grasp the fullness of a text.

So in this meditative form one sees the words, says the words aloud and so hears them and uses the imagination to see the scene. If you look at European manuscript illuminations of this period you notices that the paint is laid on so as to make scenes three dimensional. This seeing, hearing, imagining, touching the text makes for a shift in focus from just left brain reading to right brain reading. One grasps a text with one's whole being - and this is transformative.

There is nothing like the practice of lectio divina in most contemporary schools and universities. As a result few modern scholars can grasp of these older texts as they were understood by their original readers.

Today scholars read with their 'left brain' but this was not the case in the older European monastery. Monks and nuns read with the 'whole brain' both 'left brain' and 'right brain'. The result was a deep understanding of texts, an understanding which often could not be put into words but which transformed the psyche of the readers. And so their reading was a transformative act.

Aside: Some years ago I taught a course in the meditative philosophical tradition. After explaing lectio divina and doing a few short practices in class, I suggested that the students choose two texts, one from an older philosophical work and one from one of their current text books and practice lectio divina on these two works over the weekend.

Next class the students owned that they could not do it on the text books - the texts were so 'thin' , there was no depth...it was so boring as to be painful when they tried to read them in this 'whole brain' manner and so they stopped. I am often struck that few contemporaries know how to read in the way that our forebears did. As a result our essays about these texts apply the rigor of analysis but seldom if ever grasp the texts as their authors intended.

Useful resources:

1. Here is an extensive site. You will note that many illustrations cause a delight or smile. This is the attitude that the Garden of Delights engenders - that the spiritual path is not gloomy but a 'garden of delights' so that even passages that seem 'heavy' are seen as delightful as this attitude of delight in the word is practiced. Herrad of Hoehenbourg Garden of Delights

You can enlarge the pages and read the French translations. Again, note the integration of text & image - something common in works written for lectio divina.

In this set, which was copied from the original manuscript, you can see the page about the foundation of Hohenbourg: Note that Christ is in front of the monastery's church and to the right is Duke Eticho, the founder, who is being drawn up to Christ by Peter and Mary. On the left is John the Baptist and Eticho's daughter, Odile. Below, at right: Eticho gives the keys to his daughter and her companions. At left, the abbess, Relinda. It gives a real sense of the integration of the here and now with the heavenly....all are untied in one time'place and this union of the other world and the now world is typical of the monastic spirit. Everything is shot through with the divine and time is not merely linear but 'all at once;'.

2. Excerpts with original page illustrations Garden of Delights These pages show how text and image were often integrated into the same page so as to invite even a novice in lectio divina to the 'left brain'/'right brain' integration that this form of reading and understanding requires.

These pages shows the women of Hohenbourg. In addition to Herrad of Hoehenbourg, there are 60 women and all are named except the first and last, who perhaps represent those who came before and those who would come after the present writing. The caption next to Herrad of Hoehenbourg describes her as "installed as abbess after Rilinda, who had instructed her by her lessons and examples" (Caratzas, p.250).

This image embodies a very strong theological education. In The ladder to heaven: Charity (love) alone has reached the top, to receive the crown from of God. Note, too, the woman religious ("le moniale") chatting with a priest. She represents those "seduced by worldly pleasure and the wealth of their families." Since monasteries often were populated by nobility and serfs, and the European culture of the time put much emphasis on the importance of one's family, most monasteries and monastic traditions gave a good deal of energy to eradicating the habit of believing ones 'noble family' made one more important that those of non-noble birth.} At the bottom of the page, we are told that those who have fallen from the ladder from such worldly attitudes are allowed, through penitence, to start again to climb the ladder.

On the page devoted to Philosophy and the seven liberal arts: the eight female figures are dressed as Herrad's contemporaries. Socrates and Plato are seated near Philosophy but four men at the bottom who are instructed by evil spirits write only "frivolous tales or fables or poems." The circle that encloses the whole says that Philosophy "studies the secrets of the element and of all things. What she discovers, she retains in her memory. And she puts it all in writing, in order to transmit it to her students." Of course, the Philosophy is feminine - philo - sophia.

Here is another set of pages with text and image. The women representing the virtues and vices in the last pages. Garden of Delights

If you want to view additional pages of this remarkable work or read translations of sections of the text, you can do a web search. Using the phrase:

'garden of delights' Herrad of Hohenbourg will bring the best results.

For a discussion of Herrad of Hohenbourg philosophy, I suggest the article by Joan Gibson, "Herrad of Hohenbourg" in vol. 2 of A History of Women Philosophers edited by Mary Ellen Waithe.

This page was updated 29 November, 2014.

Herrad of Hohenbourg is one of more than 100 women philosophers featured in Busted!! A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers photo album and is among the 40 philosophers featured in Busted!! A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers DVD Volume 1.

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