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Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen Hardcover – October 9, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 390 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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." 
Publishers Weekly

"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."

Book Description

HMH Hardcover, 2012

Previous ISBN 978-0-547-56784-6 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (October 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547567847
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547567846
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (390 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #833,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By MommaMia VINE VOICE on August 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Illuminations is a novel based on one of the most fascinating of early Christian women, Hildegard von Bingen. Sent by her family at the age of 8 to live with the anchorite, Jutta Von Sponheim in a walled up room attached to a church, she grows up watching the extreme fanaticism of Jutta and experiences her own moving, sometimes confounding visions. She lived in a world where demons lurked around every corner and where visions such as she experienced were considered suspect. Were they visions from God, or from Satan himself? These questions haunted her as she grew up, yet upon the death of Jutta, she began to write of her visions, which helped her to find her place and purpose and she became one of the most well-known women of her time. This book uses her writings and some creative license to bring to life this most intriguing woman.

Mary Sharratt is a brilliant writer, meticulous researcher and historian. I have read several of her books already and truly had no doubt that this would also be worthy of recommendation and a 5 star review. Her characters are well developed, the story flows well and it becomes part of you and you just can't put it down. If you are looking for high quality historical fiction, then read Illuminations and also check out Mary's other books. She really knows how to bring a story to life and to keep you reading until the book is fully devoured!
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This book would have been a good read, had it been simply a fiction. But since it is supposed to be the story of Hildegard and Jutta, it is sad but true, that it is about feminism and New Age agendas, and completely out of character of both of those venerable women. The way Jutta is represented is just awful, she must be turning in her grave. She was far from the raving lunatic here, and her brother was not only not a rapist, he was instrumental in her choice of life, and very active in the founding of religious houses. The rape in the book is pure fiction, and a defamation of the brother. The portrayal of Hildegard contains tons of features which are not hers, for example the insistence of her seeing "God as Mother". The writer must have confused her with Julian of Norwich.Nor is there any basis to the description of her having been forced into the anchorage at age 8, rather it was at age 14, and with her consent. She was raised by Jutta since age 8, but in the Sponheim home, not in an anchorage. Disibodenberg was not fully built until Hildegard was older, a fact the writer blithely ignored. Nuns and monks are not "ordained", they are "professed", an enormous theological difference, which the writer would have found out, had she bothered to consult members of the Benedictine Order, instead of only her feminist friends. On page 246, the statement of the priest "becomes the mother" at the altar during consecration is an affront to all Catholics. That much literary liberty and lack of factual accuracy, when using an actual historical figure, seems clearly meant to infuse readers with little historical or theological knowledge with her own feminist and New Age agendas,rather than facts. Ms.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Few of us today understand the lives of anchorites, individuals who for religious reasons chose to live in a sealed room, with only a hatch providing contact with the world at large. In Illuminations, Mary Sharratt presents a fictionalized biography of one of the most famous anchorites of all time, Hildegard von Bingen. As a child growing up in early medieval Germany, Hildegard experienced frequent visions, a dangerous trait in the eyes of church and society. As a result, her mother "tithed" her to the church as companion to Jutta von Sponheim, a girl from a noble family who chose to become not merely a nun, but an anchorite.

Sharratt chronicles the stages of Hildegard's life, from those miserable early years of forced confinement, to her fight for the opportunity to live as a normal nun, to her founding of her own religious community. In the process, her visions continued and grew in intensity, to the point that they dictated her choices and created her reputation as a genuine and revered mystic. Sharratt's prose, at times luminous and at times decidedly down to earth. She has managed to convey a sharp sense of Hildegard's personality and spirit, relying upon primary sources, especially the brilliantly illuminated manuscript in which she recorded her visions. Her Hildegard is humble, yet not afraid to employ flamboyance to achieve her goals. She did not hestitate to criticize hypocrisy and abuses of the church to which her life was bound, which caused her enormous difficulty. But she remained unbowed, and in her more peaceful, contemplative periods, she composed exquisite music to accompany the divine office.

Today, Hildegard is often regarded as a proto-feminist, but as portrayed in this book, she is more a proponent of self-actualization and justice. She is also called St.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
4 1/2 stars

This short historical novel explores the life of a twelfth century German
nun who had an extraordinary life, and has been adopted by modern
women, both religious and feminist (not that one can't be both) as an
example of a strong woman who created a women's space in the middle of
a bleak and dangerous time for women. The author takes Hildegard's
visions, which she experienced from childhood, as fact, and as the
inspiration of her poetry. Hildegard was imprisoned (literally walled
in) as the eight year old servant of an anchorite, an
otherwise-solitary hermit, who oddly enough lived on the grounds of a
men's Benedictine monastery. Only after the anchorite's death did
Hildegard begin to write and create amazing songs that led to the fame
that has lasted to our time.

I found the beginning of the book fascinating and horrifying. It's
hard to understand a society as alien to us as twelfth century
Germany, but the author has done a creditable job of bringing it to
life. I felt the stench and the filth and mud of their lives.
Hildegard's life was so unusual for that time, as she loved to read,
sing, and the author gives her close, loving relationships with those
around her. The final crisis of the book didn't completely work.
It's extremely well-written and the songs beautiful and evocative.

Anybody who is interested in historical novels about women set in the
Middle Ages would enjoy this easy to read book. I particularly liked
that it's not about the usual queens and princesses, but about a
relatively ordinary woman who rose to prominence by her own strength.
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