Julia @ 'In The Green' - an inspiration
What’s It About?
Before Hildegard von Bingen became one of the most well-known saints, composers and healers in Medieval history, she was an 8-year-old girl sent to live in a cell with a woman named Jutta… all because she was considered “broken.”
A couple of months ago, I was asked, “If you could live in any time period, which one would you choose and why?”
I said I’d prefer to live right now. If I had to choose a different time period, it would be in the future, because the further back you go into the past, the harder it was to live as a woman. The person who asked me the question was like, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that. Usually people say the princess era or the ‘20s.”
First of all, there was no princess era, lol. But, even princesses were married off and became nothing but a vessel for reproduction. The money that comes along with being a princess ain’t shit when you are owned by your husband, even in the eyes of the courts. You honestly couldn’t do anything without their approval or there would be serious repercussions.
The ‘20s had lots of sexism, whether you chose to be a good housewife or a flapper.
I was reminded of this question after seeing In the Green, because it dealt with how terrible it was to be a woman in the past. The show is set in the 1100s, a time when if you were married, you were owned by your husband, no matter your class status. If you weren’t married, you were probably a courtesan (a type of hooker) or lived in the monasteries’ cloistered communities as a nun.
I asked a music major (and fellow SEEN writer!) if she had ever heard of Hildegard von Bingen…
I just spent a whole semester learning about monastic life in Music History 1 and let me tell you—it was boring as hell. You would only have done it if you had an extreme devotion to God and your religion. Your days in the monastery were confined to a strict schedule of singing prayers, doing chores, eating and sleeping.
Sometimes, you didn’t even get a choice. Parents would often offer one or more of their children to the monastery. This was the case for both boys and girls, but it was more often done to girls. Be mindful that this was a time of no birth control, so when you had sex, you were very likely making that baby. Many families had more than ten children—the composer Bach had 20! Not all survived, which provided another incentive to have many kids.
There were many reasons for offering your child to the monastery, but one that was explored in In the Green was to help “broken” people like Hildegard. I don’t think Hildegard was actually broken in real life. I’ve read that Hildegard had visions (probably seizures) and was offered to the monastery as an oblate, but that wasn’t part of the show.
Anyways, she was put in a room, which they called a cell, with another “broken” woman named Jutta (pronounced yah-ta) who was supposed to help Hildegard. But really, Jutta was just supposed to make sure Hildegard was locked in that room for the rest of her life.
Jutta chose this life after running away from her family when she learned she was going to be married off at a young age. Although the show didn’t explicitly say it, it did show Jutta being manhandled by someone, so I think she was raped (idk if it was by her brother or the guy she was supposed to marry) when she tried to run away. She chose to live in the cell afterward to find the “light,” and she was going to make Hildegard find it, too.
Living in that cell was probably the equivalent of being in solitary confinement. I felt a little traumatized witnessing everything that unfolded. The music probably helped bring on that traumatized feeling. It was called a musical, but it felt more like an opera with some dialogue breaks. A musical usually has clearly structured songs. This did not. Sometimes I sat in my seat wondering, how did Lincoln Center Theater approve of this?
Despite how I felt about the music, I still think this show is important for people to see. Hildegard is an inspiration because she fought her way out of that cell 30 years later when another young girl was about to be forced into it with her after Jutta died. She went around the world when women in the monastery were not allowed to be seen or interacted with, and gave speeches about the injustices in the world. She helped reform the monastery for women and helped stop this locking-women-in-a-single-room-for-the-rest-of-their-lives thing.
Tell us about your experience.
In the comments below.