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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "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...
Published on 8 Nov. 2012 by Kris Waldherr

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1 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars New age dribbles
Another example of a feminist jumping on the bandwagon of anti-Catholic linchers with her anachronistic, revisionist and, let us not leave out the usual fantasist approach of their brand. Her authority on the subject seems to be based on the fact that she spent 12 years in Germany. Although she acknowledges in a glossy insert that Hildegard's name recently came to...
Published on 20 Oct. 2012 by the.beloved


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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Think about what you love, Hildegard. Trust it. That's where your talents lie and where you'll find happiness, even here.", 8 Nov. 2012
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:

"I smuggled precious crumbs to the courtyard. Holding them in my cupped palms as an offering, I hummed softly until a wild mourning dove flew down to peck the morsels from my hand, her feathers fanning my wrists. Parts of me flew with her as she winged away into the forest. Part of me walked beneath those rustling woodland boughs and breathed that pure air, my soul blessed by so many living things."

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. (I'm thinking in particular of Terri Windling's book THE ARMLESS MAIDEN AND OTHER TALES FOR CHILDHOOD'S SURVIVORS.) 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.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel filled with light, 3 Nov. 2012
By 
Laurie A. Brown (SANDPOINT, ID USA) - See all my reviews
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When Hildegard was eight, her mother gave her to a church to be bricked into a chamber in a monastery wall as involuntary handmaiden and student to an ascetic teenaged girl of noble birth, Jutta von Sponheim. Hildegard had visions, and was thus unmarriageable. Giving her daughter over to this purpose not only disposed of her honorably, but bought the favor of Jutta's rich mother, enabling Hildegard's sisters to meet wealthy mates. As Jutta slowly killed herself with anorexia and self punishment, Hildegard and the two other girls that joined them in their dark hell longed for sunlight and freedom for over thirty years before Jutta finally died and Hildegard demanded their freedom. Her time in that dark prison wasn't wasted, though; a kindly monk brought her books from the monastery library and plants for her to grow in the tiny courtyard. By the time Jutta died, Hildegard was very educated, an able healer and a brilliant composer. She went on to found her own abbey and criticize the corruption of the church. She was an incredibly accomplished woman in a time when women were thought of as little more than breeding machines or servants.

`Illuminations' is the prefect title for this novel; illumination fills the story. The great illuminated texts that Hildegard learns from, the great visions of light that fill her, her illumination of the corruption in the church; light fills Hildegard's life even at its darkest points. This is a triumphant story told in lyrical prose that brings the era and monastery life into brilliant, colorful focus. But it's not a one sided glorification of Hildegard; she's a living, breathing woman with the faults all humans share. It's not a religious book at all; it's a story of people and spirit. Whether you're Catholic or not, or even Christian or not, Hildegard von Bingen was a fascinating woman. Sharratt's writing held me suspended in Hildegard's life throughout the novel, and it left me wishing the book was twice as long.
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4.0 out of 5 stars ‘The most ancient and enduring power of women is prophecy, my gift and my curse.’, 8 Dec. 2014
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen (Paperback)
Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in October 2012. I knew very little about her, except that she composed quite a lot of glorious music.While some of the chronology of her life is contested (was she aged eight or fourteen when she was enclosed with an older nun?), her life and achievements are amazing.

In this novel, Mary Sharratt has the eight year old Hildegard (born in Bermersheim vor der Höhe, County Palatine of the Rhine, Holy Roman Empire) given to a ‘holy’ anchorite named Jutta. Hildegard is then walled up with her companion at Disibodenberg in the Palatinate Forest in what is now Germany. An anchorite, as I discovered, was usually a woman (an anchoress) who chose to live alone in a small house with a screened window through which she conversed with the outside world. Life as an anchoress was not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but Jutta (who was often regarded as a living saint) was a fanatic.

This novel, told as a first-person account by Hildegard in old age, depicts their life together, the consequences of Jutta’s extremism on both herself and on Hildegard. While depicting the horrors of Hildegard’s life with Jutta for three decades, the novel also encompasses Hildegard’s life once Jutta is dead: where she goes public with the visions she has experienced and eventually founds and leads her own covent where she becomes a beloved abbess. Her life was not without controversy.

‘I am not afraid’, I whispered, ‘ What can they do to one old nun?’

I found this novel interesting for its depiction of Hildegard’s life as an anchorite. Ms Sharratt imagines a Hildegard consistent with the times in which she lived, possessed of a deep religious experience. While my focus remains on her music, I can only marvel at the spirit which, having endured so much, was inspired to write such soaring music. An amazing person.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, 2 Nov. 2012
By 
C. Staincliffe (manchester, Lancs United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I need to own up first of all to being a friend of Mary's as well as a fan of her fiction. But I wouldn't review her work unless I had enjoyed it myself and wanted to recommend it to other readers. As with her previous novels, Illuminations combines a vivid and sensual historical background with the story of a strong and compelling female character. Hildegard's life, from a small child walled up as an anchorite to old age as a venerated polymath, makes for fascinating reading and I particularly loved the depiction of the natural world where she finds much of her inspiration.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating., 10 Dec. 2012
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Excellent novel that gives a real insight into a fascinating character. Whether you are reading because you want to learn more about Hildegarde or just interested in the story you'll find this worth your while.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 3 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen (Paperback)
Good reworking of Hildergard's life story
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book. Thoughtful and measured, 26 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen (Paperback)
Beautiful book. Thoughtful and measured. A lot to think about and I have gone on to listen to Hildegard's music and her own writings. Fiction differs from other versions of her life, but of little importance to me as the fiction "captures" the heart.
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1 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars New age dribbles, 20 Oct. 2012
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Another example of a feminist jumping on the bandwagon of anti-Catholic linchers with her anachronistic, revisionist and, let us not leave out the usual fantasist approach of their brand. Her authority on the subject seems to be based on the fact that she spent 12 years in Germany. Although she acknowledges in a glossy insert that Hildegard's name recently came to prominence with Pope Benedict raising her to that of a Doctor of the Church she immediately castigates the Church for having so few women Doctors of the Church. I think I have said enough here to advise the serious reader who would wish to have a proper historical presentation of the facts as well as for the reader who would seek to be enlightened about the Church of today in all it's beauty (one or two warts don't make the tail wag the dog). In fact, for a book about a Catholic saint (which means proof or heroic virtue and of two miracles after death) there does not seem to be any mention about Jesus, the very Person who inspired Saint Hildegard. Here I rest my case.
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Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen
Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen by Mary Sharratt (Paperback - 15 Oct. 2013)
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