Herrad of Hohenberg (c. 1130–1195)

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Herrad of Hohenberg (c. 1130–1195)

German abbess, philosopher, artist, and writer, whose best-known work is Hortus Deliciarum. Name variations: Herrad von Hohenbourg or Hohenburg; Herrad of Landsberg; Herrad von Landsberg; Herrad of Landsburg; Herrade of Landsburg. Born around 1130; died on July 25, 1195, at convent of Hohenburg, Germany; possibly educated at the abbey of Hohenberg, Alsace; never married; no children.

Little is known of Herrad of Hohenberg's early life. She was born around 1130, entered the convent of Hohenburg as a child, and rose to become its abbess. It is unlikely that she could have achieved that position in such an important abbey without an aristocratic background, but she probably did not belong to the family von Landsberg, a name under which she has been known.

Herrad may have been educated at Hohenberg (previously known as Mt. Ste. Odile) in Alsace by her predecessor as abbess, Rilinda (Relinda or Relindis). Herrad continued Rilinda's reform work at the abbey with great success when she took over around 1176. She is famous for her production of the Hortus Deliciarum or Garden of Delights, the first encyclopedia written for women, a work on which Rilinda probably assisted although it is unsure in what capacity or to what extent. The scholarship in this work indicates that Herrad must have been well-educated, and the library at Hohenberg well-stocked.

The Hortus Deliciarum was comprised of writings from earlier philosophers of the Church, particularly Augustine, Anselm, and Boethius, but it also included an unusually extensive body of work by Herrad's contemporaries, such as Hildegard of Bingen , Peter the Lombard, Peter Comestor, and Gauthier de Chatillon. The encyclopedia included over 1,160 pieces of prose and poetry covering philosophy, religion, and history, which would be of general interest to educated women of the time.

Herrad felt it was important to illuminate the Hortus heavily, as it was to be used as a sort of Latin reader to educate her novices both about history and philosophy and the language as well, and she wanted all levels of students to benefit from it, even if they could not yet read. She oversaw the development of the Hortus, which also included numerous moral lessons, and supplied the text, but it was the nuns of her scriptorium who painted the charming miniatures, all 340. The last page of the book was a sort of group portrait of Herrad and her nuns, not individually distinguishable images but with each woman's name written above her picture.

The work became famous over the centuries, and the author was considered saintly. Much of the original was lost to fire in August 1870 while it was housed in Strasbourg, although much of it has been pieced back together. We learn also of the original content through references to it in other texts. Herrad's Hortus Deliciarum remains a subject of interest in regard to the history of philosophy, iconography, and the history of women.


Buck, Claire, ed. Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Head, Thomas. "Herrad of Hohenberg," in Katharina Wilson, ed., Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. NY: Garland, 1991.

Waithe, Mary Ellen, ed. A History of Women Philosophers. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publications, 1987–1995.

Catherine Hundleby , M.A. Philosophy, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

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Herrad of Hohenberg (c. 1130–1195)

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