Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review "Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen" by Mary Sharratt (All Lady July)

Major tip of the hat to my sister Sarah (a.k.a. my one sister who reads) who recommended this book. She said that after she read it it stayed with her a long time and after reading it myself I know I will have the same reaction! It's a little bananas...

Our story centers around Hildegard von Bingen. She was a real live person, and this is kind of a fictionalization of her life story. All of the scariest parts of her life are fact, which is scary. But we're here to talk about the book, so let's begin. (PS Im going to call her Hildy because Hildegard is far too long to spell each time).

Hildy is the tenth of ten children born in 1098 not far from the Rhine river, in what now is Germany. She was nothing like her older sisters who craved refinement and nice things, she spent her youngest years toddling through woods and rivers with her dearest brother Rorich. Her mother was mostly indifferent to her but she loved her nursemaid dearly. The main problem in her life was her visions. She got them very young, about five. They started as glowing orbs that would whiz by and hover around her. She mentioned something about it once, and her mother was furious so she never mentioned it again. When she was about 8, she got the news, she was being shipped to a nunnery with the daughter of a local noblewan named Jutta.

Jutta was beautiful and came from a wealthy family, but no one would marry her due to the fact she was a little bit mad. She begged her mother for life in a religious order and it was agreed. Hildy's mother sent along her daughter to be a handmaiden, and in exchange got handsome dowries for some of her older daughters. Hildy knew that being the youngest of ten, and the youngest girl, that her life would probably be a religious one. It is not until she arrives at Disibodenberg, an old rundown monastery a long ways from her home that she learns the awful truth about her new life.

(Everyone gird your loins because this part is true and actually happened to be in real life. Blows my freaking mind).

Jutta and Hildy were to become anchorites. Which means they were to be walled in to the inside of a church, with only 2 small rooms (she describes it as smaller than a horse stall) and a small enclosed courtyard where they can barely see the sky). No windows, no doors, only a small opening to receive food and water.Anchorites go into their cells knowing that they will be in there the rest of their lives. Hildy is about 8 and Jutta is about 14 when they are walled in. Jutta calls this "her hearts greatest desire." Hildy thinks this is the worst thing every that could possibly happen. I attend to agree with Hildy.

Jutta goes into full blown "living saint" mode. Not eating, wearing a hair shirt, flagellating herself, receiving pilgrims at their little opening and sleeping and praying a lot. Hildy manages to befriend a young monk named Volmar who brings her books from the monastery's sizable scriptorium. Beautifully illustrated books about the saints, plants, medicine and healing help fill Hildy's time. She also continues to have visions that she doesn't understand and can't control.

This continues for 30 years. 30 YEARS.

I don't want to give anymore of the story away, but our dear Hildy is not doomed to live out her days with crazy Jutta in her little prison. She becomes a famous lady and a force to be reckoned with, though her story is not always a happy one.

This book boggled my brain. I give it a 4 out of 5 stars. I love that Hildy kept her faith and still loved God even though she was put into this crazy situation completely against her will. I would have just thrown myself to the floor in the courtyard and hope that I just died of exposure. (But I'm a quitter, haha). Hope this encourages you to pick up this book and to read it somewhere in the wide open where you can feel the sunshine on your face and the breeze in your hair!

This would never fly on house hunters.


  1. When I saw this book title in my BlogLovin' feed I had to come read your review. I read it a few months ago and didn't care for it at all. :( I found it repetitious and annoying but so many other people loved it! I'm glad you enjoyed it, it was an incredible story I just didn't love the execution of it.

    1. Aww sorry it didn't tickle your fancy! But yeah, the story itself is bananas!


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