ILLUMINATIONS IS A WINNER!!!
I truly enjoyed Illuminations. It was a true page turner and I loved the historical information that was intertwined throughout the book. It is an excellent book for a book club. It covers the life of a fascinating woman and corruption in the church and how the hierarchy looked down on women. It is suspenseful, holds your attention, and fast moving. It reminded me of the "Red Tent" where Dinah was portrayed. I was educated in a parochial school so many things in the book brought back memories even though there are many centuries between my education years and the time frame of this book.
Rated of 5
by Martha L. (Warner, NH)
passion and pain Illuminations by Mary Sharratt is a novel about Hildegard von Bingen. I was worried it would be stuffy and overly religious, but it wasn’t at all. It was fascinating! Hildegard von Bingen was a famous nun/abbess/writer/composer from the eleventh century. She fought against the medieval views of women. It starts when as a child of eight she given to the church and was walled into three small rooms (an anchorage) as a handmaiden to woman who was extremely pious and in our world mentally ill. For thirty years, her only contact with the world was a priest who shared books and knowledge. It is from here that Hildegard found the strength to move forward. To me she was the first woman who tried to move the image of women. Most of all she was resilient and continued her vision forward, although not without problems.
The story of this remarkable woman cannot be told in these few words. There is so much more. The story is a well-written book that shares so much information about women during this time as well as the passion of Hildegard. If you enjoy historical fiction that is based on historical fact, this book is for you!
Rated of 5
by Helen S. (Sun City West, AZ)
A woman ahead of her time
The story of Hildegard von Bingen’s life was fascinating and enlightening. Before reading Illuminations I had only known about her from facts gleaned from the liner notes on CDs of her music; she was a medieval Christian visionary and prophet, as well as a talented musician, writer, and healer. But as I read this historical novel, I could see her talents developing and imagine what life would have been like for her as an anchorite coping with difficult people and trying situations. By the end of the book, I felt that the author had given me an inside glimpse into the heart and soul of a brilliant, multitalented woman who centuries later continues to inspire us. I highly recommend this book to all readers who want to know her, not just know about her.
Rated of 5
by Jill S. (Eagle, ID)
I'm a big fan of Mary Sharratt, and Illuminations is one of her best novels yet. Ms. Sharratt's novels are well researched and entertaining. Set in the 12th century we find Hildegard von Bingen tithed to the church. As we journey through Hildegard's life, Ms. Sharratt has done a wonderful job weaving historical fact; relationships (despite the difficult circumstances); and insight to the psychology of the characters. This book is a great read, and I recommend it to any historical fiction fan.
Rated of 5
by Terri O. (Chapel Hill, NC)
Mary Sharratt's Illuminations is a fascinating fictional account of the life of Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th century mystic, writer, composer, and Benedictine abbess. The novel contains a wealth of historical detail, but its true strength lies in the complex characterization of Hildegard, who is portrayed as a deeply religious but flawed individual who overcame much in her life to become the only sanctioned female theologian of her time. I would recommend this book to any reader who enjoys excellent historical fiction; it would especially appeal to those with an interest in mysticism, early feminism, or early Church music. I highly recommend listening to some of Hildegard's musical compositions while reading the book (a list of recordings can be found in the afterword at the end of the novel). Illuminations would also be a great book club book.
Rated of 5
by Tilli F. (Florence, MA)
This is an engrossing book. Mary Sharrat's style brings the characters to life and the environment in which they lived. And Hildegard von Bingen is an amazing character. The plot has many cliffhanger turns which keep you reading. I knew nothing about her when I took this book, and now I am totally impressed. That she lived until 80, that she was walled up when she was eight, and that her visions had such power in her time - all of these were new to me. Her affair with Richardis (Caritas) is dealt with delicately so that isn't clear whether it was a homosexual relationship or merely a soul mate one. I would recommend it to book clubs especially those who are interested in historical fiction. The book does not talk enough about her music which is why I was attracted to her. But it does talk about the importance of music. It will not appeal to readers who are agnostic since it deals so exclusively with the life of religious people, and in the middle it seems as if the author has run out of superlatives and uses phrases like"the paradisial perfume" of roses. But it was an absorbing and vivid tale and I would highly recommend it
Rated of 5
by Therese X. (Calera, AL)
ILLUMINATIONS-- Had to keep turning the pages!
Hildegard von Bingen, known for her music and writing in medieval Germany was the youngest of ten children in a devout Christian family. Although her sisters were primed to marry, her future would be strongly different and vastly strange. A lively, playful child, she claimed to see visions from an early age. Her mother, fearing that her daughter may be influenced by the devil, pledged Hildegard to a monastery at age eight as a handmaiden to an "anchorite", a special nun who spent her life in fasting and prayer in a sealed room attached to a monastery. Jutta von Sponheim, disturbed daughter of a wealthy family and Hildegard entered their tiny cell and were "walled in", with only a grill facing into the church and a revolving hatch on which unseen monks would place their meager meals. With the last brick in place, the two women were sealed together for life, Jutta hopelessly ecstatic and Hildegard trembling in terror. Volmar, a kind young monk and scribe, brought them food and also books which Jutta initially taught Hildegard to read before launching herself into masochistic spirituality. After thirty years of praying, singing and self-mortification, Jutta died and Hildegard began to thrive. Hildegard's visions, however, returned and she began writing them down as illuminations from her "mother church, Ecclesia", angering the strict, patriarchal Church clerics, that a woman would dare write a book or draw attention to herself. Hoping to put Hildegard in her place, her work was sent to the papal authorities to be condemned. As grim as Hildegard's life appears, her story is truly engrossing, inspiring wonder and courage that Hildegard was able to overcome so much adversity and contribute such music, knowledge and a sense of power which inspired the young women of her time. Deftly written, this novel places the reader fully into Hildegard's life and time with fully rounded characters, the historical backdrop of the Crusades and the ongoing struggle of women to overcome the social roles expected of them.
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