Customer Reviews for

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2012

    "Think about what you love, Hildegard. Trust it. That's where your talents lie and where you'll find happiness, even here."

    In Mary Sharratt's splendid new novel ILLUMINATIONS, this advice is given to Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) shortly after the eight-year-old girl is tithed by her family to the Catholic Church; Hildegard is deemed unsuitable for marriage because of her otherworldly, prophetic visions. The religious path chosen for Hildegard is shudder-inducing in its severity: she is forced to serve as handmaiden to Jutta, an unbalanced young anchorite renowned for her masochistic piety and unworldly beauty.

    Unlike other nuns, anchorites were walled within tiny cells, never to view sunlight or venture into the world--a living death so the anchorites may be reborn in Christ. A meal a day, slid to them through a revolving hatch, offers the barest sustenance to their bodies. Despite this, Hildegard finds ways to flourish. A novice monk brings her books and plants, allowing her to experience the world forbidden to her; his advice and friendship protect her from Jutta's violent mood swings. As the years pass, the girl learns of Jutta's tragic past and grows in compassion. Hildegard also learns to read, write, and even compose music. Her visions of the divine continue, offering her comfort in her grave-like enclosure.

    Thirty years later, when Hildegard is finally freed from her walled-up cell after Jutta breathes her last, her life truly begins as a composer of sacred music, an expert in the holistic use of plants, and author of nine books. Hildegard's magnum opus Scrivas--"Know the Way"--shares her religious visions, which present a uniquely feminine experience of the face of God. Sharratt writes, "The cornerstone of Hildegard's spirituality was Viriditas, or greening power, her revelation of the animating life force manifest in the natural world that infuses all creation with moisture and vitality. To her, the divine is manifest in every leaf and blade of grass. Just as a ray of sunlight is the sun, Hildegard believed that a flower or a stone is God, though not the whole of God. Creation reveals the face of the invisible creator."

    There are so many things I love about Mary Sharratt's writing in this novel as well as in her previous DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL. Sharratt has a true gift for giving voice to the oft-times disempowered women of our past, whether they be Pendle witches or a Benedictine abbess. A psychological intensity infuses Hildegard's inner life and relationships with others. Sharratt's descriptions are visceral and often heartbreaking in their evocation of interior life reflected outward.

    Though I already knew the outlines of Hildegard von Bingen's extraordinarily creative life, I raced through ILLUMINATIONS to find out what would happen next--Sharratt is a mistress at creating narrative tension. Ultimately, I found ILLUMINATIONS deeply moving on many levels, possibly the best book I've read this year. As a woman, artist, and writer, I can't help but believe that Hildegard's triumphant story of survival can be more universally viewed as the story of any abused or shunned child who finds salvation in creativity. While our creative visions may not be as directly spiritual as Hildegard's, they show us what we love. And there is where we'll find our happiness.

    21 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 15, 2013

    Incredible Story About a Remarkable Woman! Ever so often, I will

    Incredible Story About a Remarkable Woman! Ever so often, I will come across a book that not only captivates me, but truly impacts me as a person. This is one of those books. Understanding that this book is based during a time when it was common for young girls to be married to older men or dead at an early age, young girls with hefty dowries were given to the Church to live their lives as nuns. Such is the life of Hildegard, only her life wasn’t to be a nun, but of the handmaiden to an Anchorite.

    Feared by her mother for the visions Hildegard had, she was given to Jutta-a young girl, who had her own demons to contend with. Hildegard’s was the 10th child and her mother saw that giving Hildegard to the Church was her way of giving to God, His 10%, in hopes of sparing their family from God’s wrath (as she saw Hildegard’s visions as a curse). Hildegard was loved by her brother, Richardis, and her nurse, Walburga. Being given unconditional love from them, and her faith in her visions and God, gave her the ability to sustain being locked away, underneath the Church.

    I was absolutely saddened and horrified to learn of the self-mutilation and self-hate Jutta had for herself. Due to the abuse she endured at the hands of her brother, Jutta never came to a point where she could forgive him, herself for blaming herself, and truly seeking the grace and love only God can give. It was absolutely saddening to read how she lived her life, and while the monks and people revered her, Hildegard had first glance at the true devastation and self-hatred her life was.

    Hildegard, given at 8 to Jutta and the Church, served and used her visions, music, and love to help other young girls, who became nuns. She is a woman of devout faith and it was quite interesting to see how in the small place she lived, that she was able to maintain an herb garden and helped people with ailments (as they came to her). Her visions were quite interesting to read about and motivated her to continue doing the work she felt she needed to do, even at the expense of her own freedom.

    There is so much in this story that is difficult to explain it all. The amount of research and detail is exceptional and Mary Sharratt is a phenomenal writer, who deserves to receive positive recognition for an incredibly well written book! Despite all the detail and information, the storyline is smooth, written beautifully, and I was just in awe at the end of the book.

    I highly recommend this book, as this is definitely one of my all time favorite books!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2012

    Fantastic Reading - especially for lovers of her music.

    Strong women who makes glorious differences are a passion. This novel carries you back to the beginnings of Hildegard's journey and describes the visions that persisted throughout her life and that led to her expression of her love for the divine. I sing her music with new understanding.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2013

    A Most Amazing Woman

    I really enjoyed reading Illuminations, although the reader has to remember that it is a fictionalized biography. I had just read Kathleen Norris' Cloister Walk, in which she mentions Hildegard, so I was quite interested in learning more of Hildegard's story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2013

    This book was a very interesting book to me. I had not heard of

    This book was a very interesting book to me. I had not heard of Hildegard before I picked up this book but I thought it would be an interesting read. Mary does a good job in developing the characters throughout the entire book. I also like the author's description of the scenes so you can feel as if you are there and can see what the characters see. The visions was something different for me and sometimes I had a hard time with them but I think they were an important part of the story. I can't imagine being sent away from home at the age of eight to become a nun and live in the monestary. The story of Hildegard's life was a very intriguing one to read about.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting read from the fiction side

    I have read many books about Hildegard, all non fiction. I find it interesting how the writer presents Jutta, she sounds like she was a very mentally ill woman. I am only a couple chapters into Illuminations and am interested in seeing more of how the writer protrays Hildegard.

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  • Posted June 7, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    I love history and historical novels. This book held my interest to the end. I have heard of Hildegard von Bingen but knew very little about her. The author Mary Sharratt certainly wrote about her life with elegance and sensitivity.

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    Posted February 23, 2013

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    Posted November 3, 2012

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    Posted January 27, 2013

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