Review: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen by Mary Sharratt

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 9, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0547567847
  • Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

At the age of eight, Hildegard von Bingen was offered to the Church. Starting at an early age Hildegard saw visions, mainly white orbs of light that floated around her. While she would never admit it, Hildegard’s mother was ashamed of Hildegard’s gift, instead sending her off to the Church. For the next several decades, Hildegard spent her days entombed with a young nun, Jutta von Sponheim, serving as her handmaiden. Hildegard refused to succumb to Jutta’s extreme religious practices and instead devoured books, learning about healing herbs, and celebrating her abilities. It wasn’t until Jutta died nearly thirty years later that Hildegard felt the freedom to write about her visions and began to stand up for the other young women entombed as she was.

Hildegard was witness to a number of travesties during her “religious imprisonment.” Children as young as age five given to the church by their parents, having no say to their future. The role of women in the Church was deplorable, destined to spend their entire lives entombed behind walls of stone. It wasn’t until Hildegard stood up for her own rights, and the rights of other women like her that these women, promised to devote their entire lives to the Church, gained freedom. As a result of her efforts, Hildegard is able to build a religious home for women, forever freeing them from the constraints of a corrupt Church, the first steps toward Reformation.

Ultimately, Hildegard’s story is a truly remarkable story of personal power and perseverance. In a time when visions of any sort were deemed potentially demonic or Satanic in nature, Hildegard could have very easily been ostracized due to her gift. Additionally, she had the inner strength and confidence that not many women had at this time. She wasn’t afraid to stand up against the most powerful of adversaries.

Sharratt admittedly states that takes some liberties in retelling Hildegard’s story, altering facts to make it flow properly. That said, this fictionalized retelling of Hildegard’s life is based on historical facts. Not being personally familiar with Hildegard’s story, I learned an immense amount of information about a woman so integral to the changing beliefs of the Church. All in all, a truly remarkable and enlightening read. Highly recommended.

3 thoughts on “Review: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen by Mary Sharratt


  1. I was obsessed with Hildegaard van Bingen about 20 years ago – her music is hauntingly gorgeous. I am definitely going to read this book!



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