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.
Ann D. (Clearfield, PA)
In her book, Illuminations, Mary Sharratt has crafted novel about the life of Hildegard von Bigen. Having known a little about St. Hildegard, I was eager to read this book. The story flowed, but in the end, I was left wanting more. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. I did a little research on my own, which proved to me that Scharratt had done her homework. Illuminations could have included a great deal more of Hildegard von Bingen's writings, but was a very good as it is.
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.
Linda A. (Palo Alto, CA)
12th Century Women's Rights Advocate
Illuminations is the powerful story of Hildegard von Bingen, songwriter, abbess, religious leader who established the first monastery for women. At odds with the requirements of women to submit to the authority of powerful monks, Hildegard found a way to honor her visions, claim her talent, and enter into sisterhood with like-minded women. An interesting fictional account of the life of a fascinating woman of history.
Elinor S. (Loudonville, NY)
This beautifully written book about an extraordinary woman was so informative about a time of such corruption and turmoil in the Catholic church. At the time that sons were being sent off to the crusades and daughters were being sacrificed to monasteries (sons also) in the name of salvation for the parents. It makes a mockery of the folly of men in the name of Christianity. That Hildegarde had the strength (apparently through her visions or holiness) to stand up to the hierarchy of the church and though her teachings not only of the divine but her herbal and medicinal knowledge that centuries later I are still respected. I was happy to be introduced to her.
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.
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!