Sharratt (Daughters of the Witching Hill) offers up an imaginative retelling of the fascinating life of the 12th-century nun Hildegard von Bingen. As the 10th child, Hildegard is given to the church as a tithe at age eight, whereupon she becomes a handmaiden to the devout and troubled Jutta von Sponheim. Entombed in an anchorage in what is now Germany as brides of Christ under Benedictine rule, Hildegard and Jutta endure their monastic imprisonment for 30 years, during which time Hildegard experiences divine visions. When her anchoress finally dies, Hildegard is granted “free passage in the abbey,” but her newfound liberty is accompanied by intensified visions and a desire to make those revelations manifest, an impulse roundly quelled by zealous monks. Nevertheless, years spent captive with Jutta strengthened Hildegard’s resolve, and she dutifully perseveres, composing 78 songs; penning a book and hundreds of letters to emperors, popes, and royalty; and going on to found two monasteries. 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. (Oct.)
"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."
—Margaret George, author of Mary, Called Magdalene
"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."
—Sharon Kay Penman, author of the New York Times bestseller Time and Chance
"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."
—Karleen Koen, author of Before Versailles and the best-selling Through a Glass Darkly
"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."
"In this affecting historical novel, Sharratt imagines the inner life of Hildegard, first as an angry child, then as a young woman nurturing the other girls forced into this restricted life, and finally as a mature woman leading her companions out of the anchorage, establishing the first monastic institution for women in Germany, and advocating an idea of religious devotion based on love rather than suffering. 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."
A noted writer of historical fiction, Sharratt is also editor of the contrarian anthology Bitch Lit. So she should effectively capture the contrarian spirit of Hildegard von Bingen, who was tithed to the church at age eight and eventually broke from punishing servitude to become a powerful abbess, scholar, and composer who preached her own brighter vision of God. Not the biggest book here but with definite appeal for those interested in religion and strong female characters.
A fictionalized biography of medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen. Its publication will coincide with her appointment as a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict. Eight-year-old Hildegard, a knight's daughter, accompanies teenage Jutta, a countess' daughter, as both are imprisoned in an anchorage, a tiny enclosure adjoining a Benedictine monastery chapel in the German hamlet of Disibodenberg. The girls are consecrated as "oblates," an extreme form of cloistered nun. Their parents have ulterior motives for consigning each child to this sacred interment: Hildegard's visions embarrass her family, and Jutta, a victim of incest, is unmarriageable. For the next 30 years, Hildegard, with the help of a monk named Volmar, manages to gain an education in music, languages and medicinal arts while Jutta starves herself and mortifies her flesh until she dies. Since the anchorage must now be unbricked for Jutta's funeral, Hildegarde convinces the Abbot of Disibodenburg to allow her and two other oblates to remain free. Soon, Richardis is brought by her noble mother to serve Hildegard. Richardis is mute, but Hildegard correctly divines that her embrace of religious life is voluntary. When she speaks, it is to defend Hildegard's visions and writings, which Richardis has helped to illustrate on parchment. This miracle affords Hildegard some credibility at Disibodenburg. Then, word comes that Pope Eugenius wants to scrutinize her first manuscript, Scivias. With the help of Volmar and her beloved brother, Rorich, who serves the Archbishop of Mainz, she is cleared of heresy and is even dubbed "God's Sybil" by the Pope. Now, Hildegard is free to fulfill her destiny, which she first fully realized at the age of 42, as a writer, healer, composer and abbess. But further hurdles await. Sharratt brings the elusive Hildegard to vivid life, underscoring her ability to evade or transcend Church censure while espousing a proto-feminist agenda. 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.