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Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen Paperback – 15 Oct 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (15 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544106539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544106536
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 152,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Back Cover

"[A] lovely, deeply felt depiction of a humble woman who survives darkness to give her heart to the world." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Sharratt 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
One could not anticipate this majesty and drama . . . Illuminations is riveting, following von Bingen through . . . to emerge as one of the significant voices of the 12th century . . . Unforgettable." January Magazine

One of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages, Hildegard von Bingen Benedictine abbess, healer, composer, saint experienced mystic visions from a very young age. Offered by her noble family to the Church at the age of eight, she lived for years in forced silence. But through the study of books and herbs, through music and the kinship of her sisters, Hildegard found her way from a life of submission to a calling that celebrated the divine glories all around us. In this brilliantly researched andinsightful novel, Mary Sharratt offers a deeply moving portrait of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed, a triumphant exploration of the life she might well have lived.

Gripping . . . Like Ann Patchett s Bel Canto, [Illuminations] is primarily about relationships forged under pressure." Publishers Weekly
Masterful." Saint Paul Pioneer Press
The author of four critically acclaimed novels, MARY SHARRATT is an American who lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations.
Author photograph (c) Reg Whitman
ISBN 978-0-544-10653-6


About the Author

MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the coeditor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.

Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: 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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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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