Skillfully interweaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Sharratt's redemptive novel, Illuminations, brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.
Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was entombed in a small room where she was expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Jutta's masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine.
When Jutta died some thirty years later, Hildegard broke out of her prison with the heavenly calling to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters and herself from the soul-destroying anchorage.
Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.
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. (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
Psychological insight, passages of moving spirituality, and abundant historical detail - from straw bedding and hairshirts to turtle soup and wooden dolls - make this a memorable addition to the genre of medieval historical fiction.
Sharratt offers up an imaginative retelling of the fascinating life of the 12th-century nun Hildegard von Bingen... Though confined primarily to the abbey and peopled by a small cast, Sharratt's gripping story, like Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, is primarily about relationships forged under pressure.
Starred Review. The ideal companion to the elevation of Hildegard by the pontiff who rebuked American nuns for their outspokenness, an irony the saint herself might have relished.
C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
With elegance and sensitivity, Mary Sharratt rescues Hildegard von Bingen from the obscurity of legend, bringing to life the flesh-and-blood woman in all her conflict, faith, and unwavering tenacity. Illuminations is an astonishing revelation of a visionary leader willing to sacrifice everything to defend her beliefs in a dangerous time of oppression.
Margaret George, author of Mary, Called Magdalene
An enchanting beginning to the story of the perennially fascinating 12th-century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen. It is easy to paint a picture of a saint from the outside but much more difficult to show them from the inside. Mary Sharratt has undertaken this with sensitivity and grace.
Sharon Kay Penman, author of the New York Times bestseller Time and Chance
I loved Mary Sharratt's The Daughters of Witching Hill, but she has outdone herself with Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen. She brings one of the most famous and enigmatic women of the Middle Ages to vibrant life in this tour de force, which will captivate the reader from the very first page.
Karleen Koen, author of Before Versailles and the best-selling Through a Glass Darkly
I love Mary Sharratt. The grace of her writing and the grace of her subject combine seamlessly in this wonderful novel about the amazing, too-little-known saint, Hildegard of Bingen, a mystic and visionary. Sharratt captures both the pain and the beauty such gifts bring, as well as bringing to life a time of vast sins and vast redemptions.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Pamela F. (Grants Pass, OR) Illuminations I really didn't know much about Hildegard, and being a Catholic, I was really curious about this Saint. I read it more as a novel as I am not sure of the accuracy, but major events check out and I found the novel to be fascinating. Hildegard is... Read More
Rated of 5
by Linda S. (Oceanside, NY) Illuminating the life of an anchorite Imagine being bricked up into a small two room enclosure, with no windows and only a small courtyard that receives sparse light. This enclosure is attached to a church and your only contact with the outside world is through a small screen in the... Read More
Rated of 5
by Tracy B. (New Castle, DE) Illuminations What a shocking story. Well written and hard to put down. I wasn't raised as a Catholic so this was all very new to me. I had heard of female mystics but didn't know what their life was like? True women have come a long way in history but being... Read More
Rated of 5
by Mary G. (Lawrenceville, NJ) Illuminations What an interesting story of Hildegard Von Bingen. From a very young age she was taught always to obey and remain silent while other in authority decided her fate. But in living her humble existance she produced many remarkable accomplishments.... Read More
Rated of 5
by Nancy H. (Englewood, CO) Expected More I really wanted to like Illuminations: a Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen by Mary Sharratt. I have been fond of Hildegard for many years, reading much of her writings and songs. A multitalented woman, who had spiritual visions since... Read More
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,... Read More
St. Hildehard von Bingen was an incredibly gifted writer and music composer. Her music is known for its soaring registers and flourishes. As a child, she was exposed to music at the monastery when she heard others take part in the Divine Office. She listened and learned from the interplay between words and sound. The monastery provided a forum for music composition with copyists who could pen the music and a skilled group who could sing it.
The saint believed music was the highest form of human activity and collected them as a complement to traditional Gregorian chants.
A Paris-based ensemble group, Sequentia, has revived the popularity of St. Hildegard von Bingen's music. Sequentia's work on the music has been recorded on seven releases one of which, Canticles of Ecstasy, sold more than half a million copies worldwide and won many international awards including a Grammy for best choral recording.
You can listen to a playlist of this incredibly moving and transporting music here. For one of the many on the list, click the video below:
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