23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
A Beautiful Book,
This review is from: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program (What's this?)I knew very little about Hildegard when I started the book, just that she had lived in the 12th Century and some of her mystical writings survive. So once I got started the story became something of a page turner.....what's going to happen next. This impulse warred with the desire to read slowly to enjoy the fine writing by the author of this work.
The outline of her life is simple. Walled up (literally) as a child in a two room cell with an older girl who had chosen that life, Hildegard spent 30+ years in that situation. When she does gain her freedom (I won't spoil your enjoyment with describing how), she becomes famous for her mystical visions, music compositions and verse, and herbal healing. She gets championed by an Emperor and a Pope. She founds a religious house for women and spends 20 years traveling to preach against the corruptions in the Church.
The story can be enjoyed on several levels. The social mores and abuses possible when children had little or no say in how their elders directed their lives; the few choices available in everyone's life. The rigid hierarchy of males in the Church and the corrupt practices that would lead to the Reformation. The importance of music and song and pagentry, especially religious, in a world with few "entertainments."
The story concentrates mostly on Hildegard's years up to about age 50 when she establishes the religious house for women at Bingen. There is rich detail of her inner life and how she coped as a child, an adolescent, and as a woman with her "holy enprisonment." We see her experiencing visions where the face of God is a woman's face and in which she hears the message that Whoever does not Love, does not know God because God is Love. We see her struggles with pride and an impulse towards favoritism with a nun whose sympathetic care helped sustain her through her years of little freedom.
Hildegard lived to be about 80 (during a time when women were usually old by 30 from child-bearing). There is only brief mention of her older years spent traveling and preaching but it provides one of her orations chiding the fathers of the Church for their corrupt practices.
This is the story of the spirit within a person whose circumstances could never defeat. One need not be religious to find the beauty in the telling of it by this author. With simple words and images she does a wonderful job of creating the world of Hildegard. Especially as a child trying to understand and accept her life.
In this passage we see the child, who used to love to roam free in the woods, and now whose only contact with the outdoors is in a small walled courtyard open to the sky:
"...I kicked up my bare feet and pranced around the courtyard pretending I was on horseback, galloping away....My fists closed around imaginary reins, I careened in circles. Offering my face to the sun, I let it scorch me, let it soak into me, its warmth sinking into my muscle and bone, so that it would shine forever inside me, even on the darkest days of midwinter."