Sometimes, a book comes along that I never would have picked up except for a book club. I'm glad the group selected Mary Sharratt's Illuminations. I know I would not have read this beautifully written historical novel. Illuminations is a story based on the life of a courageous woman, Hildegard von Bingen.
According to Sharrat's story, Hildegard had visions from the time she was a child. As the tenth child in a family, with her father away fighting in the first Crusade, Hildegard was given to the Church. She was sent as a companion to Jutta von Sponheim, and, at the age of eight, Hildegard was walled up in a monastery. She spent the next thirty years as Jutta's companion, learning to read and write, and learning the use of herbs in medicine. But, it was only at the time of Jutta's death that Hildegard came into her own. The young woman found a way to break out of her isolation in the monastery, using her skills as a composer to bring attention to her visions.
Hildegard was able to gather a group of young women around her, and eventually became an abbess, establishing a Benedictine community for women. But, even in a religious community, Hildegard was forced to fight for her vision of a community within the Church. Illuminations is the fascinating story of a religious woman coming into her own in the second half of her life.The woman who eventually was made a saint, and, in 2012, proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, was a talented composer, writer, and philosopher, who spoke out against the abuses in the church.
Illuminations is the story of Hildegard's vision and religious life, but it's also a story of deep friendship and love. Would Hildegard have risen to the heights she did without the lifelong friendship of a scribe, Brother Volmar, and her love for Richardis von Strade, one of the sisters who was sent to her? Mary Sharratt takes some liberties with the story of Hildegard von Bingen, because there are some discrepancies in the story of St. Hildegard. However, she's written a beautiful novel of a woman who changed the world around her.
Mary Sharratt's website is www.marysharratt.com
Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2012. ISBN 9780547567846 (hardcover), 274p.
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