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Illuminations: a novel of Hildegard von Bingen

Illuminations by Mary Shabatt

Rating: 3/5

Illuminations by Mary Sharrat

What It’s About:

One of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages, Hildegard von Bingen—Benedictine abbess, healer, composer, saint—experienced mystic visions from a very young age. Offered by her noble family to the Church at the age of eight, she lived for years in forced silence. But through the study of books and herbs, through music and the kinship of her church sisters, Hildegard found her way from a life of submission to a calling that celebrated the divine mother and the glories all around us. In this brilliantly researched and insightful novel, Mary Sharratt offers a deeply moving portrait of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed, a triumphant exploration of the life she might well have lived.


What I liked

I was fascinated with many historical aspects of this novel. More specifically, I learned interesting things about anchorites/anchoresses, illuminations, writing, and women’s roles in Middle Ages. Hildegard Von Bingen is forced as a young girl to serve the anchoress Jutta at the Disibodenburg monastery. Both are walled into a cell and live a life of religious seclusion and prayer.

I loved that this story was based off of a real person. Hildegard is portrayed as an intelligent, willful, and persevering character. In the novel, Jutta teaches her how to read and that is what sets off her journey of knowledge. I haven’t come across any female characters from the Middle Ages that possess her talent of writing, composing, and scientific observation. This academic and scientific part of her character and story was probably the part that I liked best.

The inner workings of the monastery and the daily lives of the women in the cell was also interesting. Many years later, Hildegard eventually becomes a magistra (or mother superior) after more young women join and become novice nuns. I love when a historical fiction opens up new perspectives and new parts of history that knew nothing about. I did alot of Google searches to look up various topics that came up in the story and I really enjoyed it.

What I didn’t like

There were a few things in Illuminations that I didn’t care too much for. The details of her many visions and the relationship with one of the female novices were too repetitive and detailed for my preferences. The story did seem to slow down at about 60% of the way and most of the topics that interested me at first were no longer a focus of the story, so I skimmed alot more towards the end.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you thought.


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