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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,760 Ratings  ·  459 Reviews
Illuminations chronicles the life of Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), who was tithed to the church at the age of eight and expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rej ...more
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Diane S ☔
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Several years ago, my husband and I went to Chicago to see a play called "Late Nite Catechism." It is helpful if one is Catholic and even more helpful if one has gone to Catholic School (which I did, for too long in my opinion), to understand what is going on in this play. Anyway this was about the time when the Vatican decided to pare down it's list of saints and as we were told during this play, they had decided that having an eating disorder or being mentally ill did not qualify one for saint ...more
The Book Maven
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys historical fiction or uppity women breaking the mold
When I was fifteen, I discovered the beautiful music of Hildegard von Bingen. (Incidentally, the CD of her music that I discovered was a techno-trance interpretation created by Richard Souther. While I continue to love this work, it's much maligned by people with better taste than myself.) This was one of my first exposures to New-Agey, ambient type music, and also one of my first exposures to Hildegard, the Ultimate Uppity Woman.

It's just as well that von Bingen has an uppity personality; she n
Christy Robinson
I'd had this book on a wishlist since the author announced its publication date months ago, and it was released a few days before my birthday. A friend purchased it for me as a gift, and by my birthday, I had read only a quarter of the book. Was it because I'm a slow reader that I didn't devour the text over a weekend? No.

Illuminations is a book to savor, like exquisite musical movements, for its descriptions of physical scenes and emotional climates, the development of characters in extreme ci
Amy Bruno
I became a fan of author Mary Sharratt when I read her novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, so I've been anticipating the release of Illuminations with great excitement and when I was offered the opportunity to review it I jumped at the chance!

Illuminations tells the story of Hildegard von Bingen, who as a young girl was offered to the church as a companion to an anchorite nun, Jutta Von Sponheim. At the tender age of eight Hildegard was sealed in a small cell with Jutta where she would remai
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was 4.5 stars for my enjoyment. The read captured Hildegard's personality. It's a gentle telling of her historical reality. This fiction by Sharratt succeeds because she grabbed the strength that was inherent in that girl from the beginning through all the changes and conditions she both endured and recorded.

The prayers, the songs, the poetry- they were exquisite. The Divine Love she describes considering the physical conditions and the mental barriers put into place as young as she was? I
Barbara M
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Before reading this book, I would not have expected to enjoy a book about a cloistered nun in the Middle Ages. I had never heard of Hildegard von Bingen. I read this book because it was recommended to me by Goodreads based on my reviews of other books.

Based on a true story, this book provided a fascinating portrayal of a young girl sent away by her Mom to live in a monastery as a nun/servant. An older noble teen was electing to enter the monastery willingly and become a nun. Hildegard was offer
I love reading about the Saints and I love historical fiction, but typically putting the two together makes for a disappointing read, in my opinion.  Good historical fiction authors are difficult to find in Catholic bookstores, so I was pleased to find Illuminations, a novel about the life of Hildegard von Bingen, written by a mainstream historical fiction author.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was placed in an anchorage at the age of 8.  An anchorage is much stricter than a typical convent, as
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
"And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them...And he said to me: Write, for these words are most faithful and true." ~Apocalypse 21: 2-3, 5

"I behold you, noble, glorious and whole woman, the pupil of purity. You are the sacred matrix in which God takes great pleasure. The essences of Heaven
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Another book I just loved from the first line. While I was predisposed to love this novel since I adore all things Hildegard, Sharratt's articulation of the woman behind the legend is what made me unable to put this book down. (That, and the reality of what religious monastic life meant for Hildegard. Horrifying!)

Growing up Catholic, I'm still pretty enamored of saints even if I've shed most everything else of that faith tradition. The dramatic saints -- women like Hildegard -- were and still ar
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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, ...more
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm listening to this (audio form). Can I say: OMG! The story is completely fascinating, made even more so by the reader, Tavia Gilbert. I am only on the second cd and listening to the story and how it was told, made me cry! I need to just drive and drive, I guess, so I can listen to this book.
It's been a week and can I say: I don't spend enough time in the car... I am still thoroughly enjoying the book.

I really liked this book ... a lot! I am definitely going to have to do some more research on
Viviane Crystal
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is as disturbing a story as it is inspiring! At the age of 8 years old, in order to win dowries for Hildegard's sisters, her mother "tithes" her to a monk's monastery to become an anchorite. That means that she and another young girl will be placed in two rooms that are completely walled in except for a small grille through which their spiritual advisor can speak to them and through which food and drink of the coarsest nature will be passed at mealtimes. Jutta with whom Hildegard is impriso ...more
Aug 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
Very little is known about Hildegard von Bingen's early life, and Mary Sharratt has chosen the most traumatic of the stories as the basis for her novel. In her version, young Hildegard is already seeing visions and her mother fears she will be branded a heretic. The girl is offered to the Church as an oblate and walled into the monastery at Disibodenberg with Jutta von Sponheim at the age of 8. (Some sources put the enclosure date later, when Hildegard was 14, but in the scheme of things that ha ...more
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a fascinating woman Hildegarde von Bingen was; devout yet radical, both spiritual and spirited. I was enthralled by her story, from her forced confinement as an anchorite in childhood through to the revolutionary accomplishments of her later years. I relished her evolution from a powerless, frightened child into a mature woman with the courage to publicly call out the corrupt church hierarchy and endure the consequences. I had never before read of the anchorites who confined themselves to b ...more
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
wow . . . really wanted to like . . . really didn't. so over- and badly written. if she described the nuns' singing as "their voices rose up to the heavens . . ." or "their voices rose up, intertwining in beautiful harmonies . . . " or "their voices rose up . . ." -- dear lord, please find a new way to describe a bunch of people singing. or better yet, stop describing people singing every few pages. yes, we get it. they sing a lot. could they do some other stuff too?! i could list many other ann ...more
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
This novel about Hildegard of Bingen steers between two extreme views of this important medieval figure that I have seen in biographies. Mary Sharratt doesn't take the psycho-medical view that because Hildegard had migraines, she never had any true visions. She also doesn't deny that Hildegard had migraines in an effort to portray her as the perfect New Age saint. Instead she takes the approach that it's possible to be a great visionary while still having migraines at times. It seemed to me that ...more
Nov 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
Illuminations by Mary Sharratt is a historical fiction novel based around the life of Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179). Hildegard was given to the church by her mother and is walled into the church expected to spend her life in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, yet disturbed, young nun named Jutta von Sponheim. Hildegard resists this life and, nearly thirty years later, finally breaks away to pursue her own interests and attempt to liberate other women from the anchorage.

For t
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hist-fic
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 ...more
Michelle (True Book Addict)
Once again, historical fiction has led me to a person and a subject I otherwise knew nothing about. I really had no idea that there was such a thing as anchorages and women (nuns) who became anchorites. These women willingly gave themselves to a monastery to be literally walled in, never seeing the outside world, for the rest of their days. In Illuminations, Hildegard von Bingen is forced to enter an anchorage with a girl (Jutta) who is perceived as the holiest of holy. However, her reasons for ...more
Warren-Newport Public Library
Fact based historical fiction has been more prevalent in the past few years. Most of us have read or heard about Philippa Gregory’s Henry VIII wives series. This new novel was recommended to me by my mother-in-law.

Skillfully interweaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Sharratt’s redemptive novel, Illuminations, brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, and visionary.

Offered to the Church at
Maggie Anton
Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
All the other reviewers gave as synopsis, so I'm just going to say what I liked about this book - which was a good deal. I greatly appreciated how Mary Sharratt never condescendes to her readers. She accepted Hildegard's visions as described, rather than trying to explain them as some sort of mental illness or delusion. Descriptions of the anchorage are chilling, yet Sharratt paints such a horrific [and true] picture of an average woman's life in the 12th century - a subject I am quite well vers ...more
Dec 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion, history
This book was about Hildegard von Bingen, an 11th-century German abbess who wrote books and music inspired by visions sent to her by God. This was an incredibly interesting read and I admire Sharratt immensely for attempting to dissect the life of a saint from a saint's point of view. I felt that the book really hit it's stride after she becomes an anchorage with Sister Jutta, the self-destructive and mad nun whose piety and insanity are incredibly vivid and wonderfully realistic.
My one compla
Oct 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a beautiful story about one of the most fascinating women in medieval history. I had read excerpts from Hildegard's Scivias in a class in graduate school and I wanted to learn more about her. When I found out this book was being released back in 2012, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. It's a sad story, both because of the hardships Hildegard faced and the harsh conditions she and her sisters hand to endure throughout their lives. Religious life was not and is not an easy path to take, ...more
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
I found Sharratt's book to stay true to many facets of Hildegard's life, except for her inner life.

I would have liked to see Sharratt give Hildegard a more authentic Christian and less secular inner life. I imagine she did rail against her plight and her early years in the Church as an anchorite (a hermit who leads a monastic life often times on church property in small cells). I imagine she had moments of bitterness, but she could not have gone on and become a pillar of the Christian mystic tr
Illuminations by Mary Sharratt is a novel about Hildegard von Bingen. I was worried it would be stuffy and overly religious, but it wasn’t at all. It was fascinating! Hildegard von Bingen was a famous nun/abbess/writer/composer from the eleventh century. She fought against the medieval views of women. It starts when as a child of eight she given to the church and was walled into three small rooms (an anchorage) as a handmaiden to woman who was extremely pious and in our world mentally ill. For t ...more
Sep 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
I've heard of Hildegard von Bingen but hadn't read anything about her before. Fascinating story of a complicated woman of the middle ages.
Colleen  D
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was great historical fiction about a fascinating woman/nun during the Middle Ages.
I had heard of Hildegard von Bingen but didn't know much about her except that she was a nun in the 1100s who had visions. This fictionalized biography brought her life into brilliant review.
Susan in NC
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
I chose this historical novel from the Vine program because I had heard of Hildegard von Bingen but knew very little of her life. I knew she was a nun, a mystic, a writer of holy music, but I had no idea she had been consecrated to the holy life so early (at the age of eight), and in such a dismal and terrifying fashion (to this claustrophobe!), literally entombed in a small two-room enclosure attached to a monastery church. That was supposed to be the end of the story; Hildegard entered Disibod ...more
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
This review also features on my book blog

What a skilful author Mary Sharratt is, she draws you into a story effortlessly and keeps you there.

Illuminations tells a fictional account of the life of a real, very unique, historical character - Hildegard Von Bingen. Set in Germany in the 10th century, where choices for a youngest daughter were limited, yet little Hildegard has a joyous outlook on life, exploring the nearby forests with her beloved brother Rorich,
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Mary Sharratt is an American writer who lives with her Belgian husband in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed 2010 novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers.

Previously she lived for twelve years in Germany. This, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medic
More about Mary Sharratt...

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“Think about what you love, Hildegard. Trust it. That’s where your talents lie and that’s where you’ll find happiness, even here.” 1 likes
“Trutwib went on speaking, her voice picked up volume and power until I heard her prediction ring out, her words that changed everything. “The one who lives under your wing, my lady, shall grow and grow until she outshines you. You will die, forgotten and obscure, and she shall blaze like the sun.” 0 likes
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