Synopsis: Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.
Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta's masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.
My Thoughts: I have had a few of Mary Sharratt's books on my TBR list for a long time so when I was offered the opportunity to read and review Illuminations, I jumped at the chance. This is one of most unique stories I have read; I can't think of any that can compare with it.
Hildegard is such a captivating character and is a historical figure I had not heard of prior to reading this book. I loved that the book followed her life from childhood through old age as she experienced heavenly visions. I was amazed that she was able to maintain her inner strength and sense of self considering the deprivations she was forced to deal with as Jutta's companion. I also found it fascinating that Hildegard was responsible for several religious books. That seems like such a huge accomplishment for a woman in an age where women were typically powerless.
In addition to Hildegard, there were quite a few great characters in this novel. I had such a love/hate relationship with Jutta. I felt so bad for her but at the same time she was extremely abusive to Hildegard and was definitely not in her right mind. Her desire to be pious and holy made her incredibly crazy. It kind of bothered me that the monks revered her so much considering her behavior. I really liked Volmar: how he took Hildegard under his wing when she was a child and how he was one of her best friends and advocates throughout her life.
I must say that this is such a well-written story. I feel like the author did a great job of describing the setting; I felt like I could truly envision the monastery and cell where Jutta and Hildegard lived. I also thought the descriptions of Hildegard's visions were absolutely beautiful. My only complaint about this book is that I felt like the ending was rushed. There were certain periods of Hildegard's life that were well-developed and then other parts that were just skipped or rushed through. Besides that, I thoroughly enjoyed Illuminations and cannot wait to read more of Sharratt's books. 4 stars.
About the Author:
The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year.
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