About Hildebert von Bermersheim
The middle Rhine region between the Nahe and the southern knee of the River Rhine, which formerly was a province of the Grand Duchy of Hessen on the left side of the Rhine, is up to today called "Rheinhessen". It is a historical region showing traits of the Bronze Age and the Iron Age (2000 BC) and, furthermore, of later settlements by the Celts, the Romans, the Germans, and finally - after being integrated into Franconia - by Frankish settlers. It has always been the fate of this Rhine-Nahe region as a frontier and transit-area to be more exposed to 'change and destruction' than other parts of Germany.
This has to be kept in mind when searching for traces of Hildegard's life. She was born in 1098 in Bermersheim (Rheinhessen) as the tenth child of the nobleman Hildebert of Bermersheim and his wife Mechthild. There is no indication today in this small, peaceful village that once it was the ancestral seat and territory of a ruling family, who distinguished itself both by "higher nobility and abundant wealth" as well as "illustrious reputation and name" - according to the Hildegard Vita. Indeed, Bermersheim may claim to look back on a history for centuries - like so many other Franconian settlements, the names of which end with the syllable '-heim'. Already in the second half of the eighth century it is called a 'closed village landmark" in deeds of donation of the Lorsch Monastery - its origin must thus be dated back even earlier. Sole witness of that time could only be the small church, whose solid steeple may well be erected more than a thousand years ago; apart from that - as mentioned already - "decay and destruction" have claimed their sacrifices. There still exists, however, a manuscript of 1731 "Renovation of the Bermersheim stock-books" recording that a manor house stood right next to the church. Hence it may be assumed that - as was usual in the Middle Ages - the small church was connected with the Bermersheim manor house and thus, most likely, had been Hildegard's baptistery.
But how sure can we be today that Hildegard really was born at Bermersheim? Around 1500 Abbot Trithemius of the monastery of Sponheim alleges in a biography of Hildegard that her birthplace was the castle of Böckelheim on the Nahe. However, he never was much concerned about historical precision in the description of the lives of the saints, as is made clear by other passages of the text. The biographies written during Hildegard's lifetime content themselves with the information "in this part of Franconia ..." or leave a blank for later entries. Only Hildegard's parents are mentioned by their Christian names - Hildebert and Mechthild - which was entirely sufficient for a final documentation at that time. It is a striking fact, that the catalogue of goods (foundation book) of the convent of Rupertsberg, founded by Hildegard around 1150, at the top of all entries on nine pages registers donations from the region of Bermersheim. In addition to this, a deed of donation of the time around 1158 confirms the donation of the manor house of Bermersheim and other estates to the "Ladies" of the Rupertsberg convent. As can be proven, the issuers of this donation were Hildegard's three brothers - being obviously without descendants-, for Hildegard as the youngest child was already 60 years old at that time. One of her brothers, Drutwinus, together with his father "Hildebert of Bermersheim", is mentioned as a witness for the first time in a document of the Archbishop of Mainz in 1127.
Thus the circle is closing and it can be considered as proven that Hildegard was a "Bermersheim" ' This statement is strengthened also by the fact that the abbesses of the Rupertsberg monastery - after its destruction in 1632 the ones of the Eibingen convent - ruled over the village of Bermersheim. In addition the Count Palatines took over a protectorate, which during the Reformation and later on, however, became a "tyranny". Nevertheless, the legal rights of the convent could be asserted until the separation of the left bank of the Rhine in favour of France in 1801. Since the Reformation, the church of Bermersheim was again and again, then finally used as a simultaneous church for Catholics and Protestants as well. As is characteristic for a Franconian foundation, it has been under the patronage of St. Martinus until today.
Sr. Teresa Tromberend OSB