Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Illuminations” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.94  ·  Rating details ·  3,519 ratings  ·  563 reviews
"Sharratt 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
"One could not anticipate this majesty and drama . . . Illuminations is riveting, following von Bingen through . . . to emerge as one of the significant voices of the 12th century
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Illuminations, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Michelle Ellison Absolutely not! I enjoyed it purely as a historical fiction. I always learned so much in the process of enjoying this book. It is one of my favs. I st…moreAbsolutely not! I enjoyed it purely as a historical fiction. I always learned so much in the process of enjoying this book. It is one of my favs. I stopped buying books and going to the library but I purchased this one to add to my shelves. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,519 ratings  ·  563 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Illuminations
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
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
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
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
I read one-third of this book and didn't want to finish. It has the tone of a YA novel and nothing of the mysticism of Hildegard von Bingen. One-third of the way through the book and she's only 15 years old. Not worth going on because it obviously won't deliver what I hoped for.
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
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
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sharratt constructed a very enjoyable imagining of what Hildegard von Bingen's life was like. With each turn of the page, I was really glad to not have lived her life. I might have had to kill myself. It was all I could do to make it through my catholic night classes I was forced to endure for most of grade school. In the 5th grade, I was asked to leave CCD before making my confirmation because I argued with the priest after he told us about the Widow's mite. She only had 2 mites (quarters) to h ...more
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
Set in the Middle Ages (1098-1179), this is a true story of a fascinating woman Hildegard von Bingen also known as Saint Hildegard and Sibyl of the Rhine. She was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath.

Hildegard von Bingen is promised to the church at the age of eight as a companion to a young woman, who chooses to be entombed in a small room. Cold and hungry young Hildegard, living the life she didn’t choose, dreams of roaming the f
Jun 07, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a fictionalized biography of the 12th century mystic, Hildegard von Bingen. Although the author was consistent with the outline of the historical facts, there were some places where I questioned if she got the details of the larger setting correct. For example, she referred to the religious vows of the anchoress as “taking Holy Orders” a term I have only seen used for the ordination of deacons, priests and bishops. The voice of Hildegard never quite felt authentic. In the early years, sh ...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 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
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
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
From the first to the last sentence, I was totally captivated. The book was thrilling and beautifully written. I read it in every spare moment.

In the 11th century, where men ruled both the countries and the church, women were basically nobodies. Girls at a tender age were turned over to men as wives with no rights or to the church to become nuns with no rights.

Hildegard at age 8 or perhaps 14 (history is not sure on this point) was given up by her mother fully knowing that she would become a s
Kim Ess
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The complete brutality of the Medieval times shines through here ALL in the name of Christianity! Hildegard von Bingen is one our first feminists. I learned so much from this historical fiction. The author did a great job of interpreting historical documents and giving us a story that was hard to put down. I had no idea about certain practices within the Benidictine Religion during the time covered in this book and it blew me away. I suggest you pick up and start reading the book without Googlin ...more
rating: 4.5

This was my introduction to Hildegard von Bingen. Why have I never heard of her? (And I attended a Catholic college.) I'm intrigued, and I want to learn more about this woman. Isn't that a sign of a well-written historical novel? It was a 'page-turner' but not in the usual meaning of the phrase. I never wanted to put down the book, so I kept reading 'just another few pages.' The story drooped once, about 4/5th into the story. I was wondering if the author really needed the last fifth
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
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
Nov 10, 2013 rated it liked it
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
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
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful book which I will read again and again.I knew little about Hildegarde although I had read a few writings. How modern she was and wise and most of all resilient.

Hildegarde was just a fun loving little girl when she was given to the church, not only as an ordinary nun but as a companion to a self professed anchorite. She was bricked into a very small 2 rooms for 38 years with no options or recourse.Her strong personality kept her sane, as did her through-the-screen relationship with V
Dec 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, religion
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
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was great historical fiction about a fascinating woman/nun during the Middle Ages.

There is Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing. - Hildegard von Bingen

He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love.

Dedicated to women of spirit everywhere - many blessings on the quest
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
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
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A fine book. Just imagine the european world through the eyes of the people who lived in it then as portrayed by Mary Sharrat aided by extensive research and knowledge in order to make it happen. It was a set world with good and evil being the real constants and measuring devices. How it was measured in a class system which put the serfs (legalized slavery) at the bottom of the core, and the top hierarchy being the church and the political scene each with it's own hierarchy. Obedience was expect ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Night Watchman
  • The Greenest Branch (Hildegard of Bingen #1)
  • Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk
  • Ry's Git Tutorial
  • Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
  • Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening
  • Emile, or On Education
  • A Dance of Blades (Shadowdance, #2)
  • Why Marriage: The History Shaping Today's Debate Over Gay Equality
  • JavaScript for beginners: The simplified for absolute beginner’s guide to learn and understand computer programming coding with JavaScript step by step. Basics concepts and practice examples inside.
  • Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light
  • The Particle Zoo: The Search for the Fundamental Nature of Reality
  • Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were
  • The Patient
  • Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery
  • Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife
  • Vet on the Loose
  • The Boy in the Field
See similar books…
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

News & Interviews

It’s October, which means it’s the perfect time to scare yourself with a truly unsettling book. But if you’re a casual reader of dread and...
200 likes · 63 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“Encircling all this was a ring of flame, the holiness of God, my Mother, blazing everywhere. Our abbot and prior preached that God was above all things, and yet my vision told me that God was in all things, alive inside every stone and leaf. A white cloud, filled with light, opened and a voice began to sing. I am the breeze that nurtures everything green and growing, that urges the blossoms to flourish, the fruits to ripen. I am the dew that makes the grasses laugh with the joy of life.” 3 likes
“Think about what you love, Hildegard. Trust it. That’s where your talents lie and that’s where you’ll find happiness, even here.” 2 likes
More quotes…