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Lingua Ignota (an unknown language)

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Among her many works is reference to a lingua ignota, or unknown language, that she apparently invented for her own mystical purposes. What survives in writing is an alternative alphabet, a couple of partial glossaries, and sporadic use of isolated words within otherwise normal Latin text. Apparently Hildegard’s community was aware of her secret language, but it’s not clear how it was used or that anyone other than Hildegard herself ever used it.

I have been an admirer of Hildegard’s music, her visionary art, and her interesting story for many years. I recently happened across the information about her lingua ignota and an image of her alternative alphabet glyphs. Coincidentally, I also became aware of a free online service called MyScriptFont.com that provides a TrueType font created from your own handwriting. On a whim and for no particular purpose, I decided to create a Hildegard font.

PROCESS:

Here is the original image:

Hildegard of Bingen - litterae ignotae

Hildegard of Bingen – litterae ignotae from the Wiesbaden Codex

The resolution of the image is not great. I took it into Photoshop and tweaked the contrast to make the letters clearer and remove the background. I then created a new layer and traced each letter with a quill-shaped brush. My tracings are not exact and I took some liberties to smooth some edges, etc. The tracings were pretty jaggy and I wanted as smooth lines as I could get, so I took them into Illustrator and converted them to vectors using the default tracing parameters. I then placed the form provided by MyScriptFonts.com behind the vector tracings and moved each letter to the appropriate location.

Hildegarde-AlphabetI did not include the ligatures for et (&) and est for no particular reason. As you can see, there are no separate glyphs for J, V, or W as these letters were not used in Latin texts of the period.

My tracings are pretty rough and could stand to be refined, but the font created by the online service turned out surprisingly well, considering. I may tweak it a bit further, but I have no specific use for it at this time. If anyone would like the TrueType font, send me an email FreeWeeL@gmail.com and I’ll gladly send you a copy.

Hildegard-TrueType-Font-Sample

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Categories

A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.