HFVBT Book Review: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt


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 Review:

Ever so often, I will come across a book that not only captivates me, but truly impacts me as a person.  This is one of those books.  Understanding that this book is based during a time when it was common for young girls to be married to older men or dead at an early age, young girls with hefty dowries were given to the Church to live their lives as nuns.  Such is the life of Hildegard, only her life wasn’t to be a nun, but of the handmaiden to an Anchorite.

Feared by her mother for the visions Hildegard had, she was given to Jutta-a young girl, who had her own demons to contend with.  Hildegard’s was the 10th child and her mother saw that giving Hildegard to the Church was her way of giving to God, His 10%, in hopes of sparing their family from God’s wrath (as she saw Hildegard’s visions as a curse).  Hildegard was loved by her brother, Rorich, and her nurse, Walburga.  Being given unconditional love from them, and her faith in her visions and God, gave her the ability to sustain being locked away, underneath the Church.

I was absolutely saddened and horrified to learn of the self-mutilation and self-hate Jutta had for herself.  Due to the abuse she endured at the hands of her brother, Jutta never came to a point where she could forgive him, herself for blaming herself, and truly seeking the grace and love only God can give.  It was absolutely saddening to read how she lived her life, and while the monks and people revered her, Hildegard had first glance at the true devastation and self-hatred her life was.

Hildegard, given at 8 to Jutta and the Church, served and used her visions, music, and love to help other young girls, who became nuns. She is a woman of devout faith and it was quite interesting to see how in the small place she lived, that she was able to maintain an herb garden and helped people with ailments (as they came to her).  Her visions were quite interesting to read about and motivated her to continue doing the work she felt she needed to do, even at the expense of her own freedom.

There is so much in this story that is difficult to explain it all.  The amount of research and detail is exceptional and Mary Sharratt is a phenomenal writer, who deserves to receive positive recognition for an incredibly well written book!  Despite all the detail and information, the storyline is smooth, written beautifully, and I was just in awe at the end of the book.

I highly recommend this book, as this is definitely one of my all time favorite books!

*A huge thanks to HFVBT for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book!

Book Trailer:


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.

For more information, please visit Mary’s website and blog.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, October 14 Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, October 15 Review at Plum Creek Peddler Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, October 16 Review at Bitches with Books

Thursday, October 17 Review at Flashlight Commentary Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Libraria

Friday, October 18 Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Monday, October 21 Review at Book of Secrets

Tuesday, October 22 Review at The Most Happy Reader Review & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise

Wednesday, October 23 Review at Books, Belles and Beaux Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader

Thursday, October 24 Review at Just One More Chapter Guest Post at Books, Belles and Beaux

Friday, October 25 Interview & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter

Monday, October 28 Review at Bloggin’ ’bout Books

Tuesday, October 29 Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks

Wednesday, October 30 Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Friday, November 1 Review at Jorie Loves a Story Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Monday, November 4 Guest Post & Giveaway at HF Book Muse – News

Tuesday, November 5 Guest Post & Giveaway at The True Book Addict Interview at Erika Mailman Blog

Wednesday, November 6 Review at CelticLady’s Reviews Review at The True Book Addict

Thursday, November 7 Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Friday, November 8 Review at History and Women

Monday, November 11 Review at A Bookish Affair Review & Giveaway at Closed the Cover

Tuesday, November 12 Review & Giveaway at vvb32 Reads Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, November 13 Review at The Musings of ALMYBNENR

Thursday, November 14 Review at So Many Books, So Little Time Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews Feature & Giveaway at Book-alicious Mama

Friday, November 15 Review at Books in the Burbs

9 thoughts on “HFVBT Book Review: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt

  1. Wow. That’s awesome that you loved it that much! I liked it too although I didn’t quite hit the “love” category with it there’s no doubt it’s a good book. I’m even running a giveaway for it right now (sorry…shameless plug?). I love when we read the same books. Jutta…that poor woman never stood a chance.


    • If it had been a fictionalized story, I wouldn’t have loved it as much as I do. Knowing the suffering Jutta experienced by her own hands and the way Hildegard compensated for her imprisonment was remarkable to me. It’s incredible to me how the monks were so amazed by the extremist way Jutta lived her life, never truly knowing her own self torture and how miserable she really was. Glad you are giving the book away!! It will be a great book for someone to win :D


      • Oh, yes, I know that. I meant to write that had Jutta been a completely fictionalized character, I would have viewed the storyline a bit too over the top. I understand there is some fictionalization and certainly with the way both Jutta and Hildegard experienced their life, but it was still a book that profoundly moved me. I am not a Catholic, but am Christian. So, to see read about the torture, it just gave me thanks that through Jesus, I don’t have to do that for repentance and by His grace, I am saved.


  2. I read this book when it first came out in hard cover, almost a year ago. So I don’t remember particulars. But are you sure of the name of her brother who loved her? She had a dear friend, a fellow nun, whose name was Richardis, I thought.

    Also, Hildegard did, indeed, become a nun and even became the head of her own order of nuns.

    Here’s my review:

    ILLUMINATIONS by Mary Sharratt tells the story of Hildegard von Bingen, recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches and as a prophet by the Lutheran Church.

    Hildegard’s divine visions were likely the reason her mother gave her to a Catholic monastery when she was a child, where she was forced into a tomb-like existence for 30 years. Her visions continued her entire life. When she was sure they came from God, she saw the importance of writing a book about them. Further synopsis is in the review above.

    ILLUMINATIONS is based on documented fact, but it is not a biography. Here, Hildegard’s story is told as a novel. In so doing, Sharratt interjects Hildegard’s thoughts, psychological insights, and dialog and keeps the reader’s interest more than a biography would. For readers like me, that makes this book more readable, and that is why I rate the book so highly.

    Like all good novels that are based on fact, ILLUMINATIONS will have you needing to know exactly what really happened and what is Sharratt’s fiction. She talks about this in the “Afterward,” which I thought should have begun the book rather than ended it.

    I wondered most about Hildegard’s special relationship with Sister Richardis. So I did some digging, searching the Internet. And that made me want to learn even more, and that made me want to search Netflix. Sure enough, they have a couple DVDs about Hildegard, and now one of them is on its way to me


    • Yes, it’s a fantastic book. She did become a nun and canonized, but I don’t typically reveal everything in my reviews. Just enough information for someone to perhaps consider the book. As for her brother, it was Rorich! So, thanks foe the name correction!! I can’t believe I wrote the name incorrectly. Volmar was the monk, who helped her with giving her books and small herbs, with whom she loved. What is the link to your review? Post it so that readers can find your blog, too! Thanks for stopping by!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s