Please welcome the wonderful Mary Sharratt to Passages to the Past today! Mary is here with a fascinating guest post in honor of the release of her latest (and fabulous) novel Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. I also have one copy of Illuminations to give away to one of you lucky readers!
When I was forty-two years and seven months old, Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch.
--Hildegard von Bingen, Scivias, translated by Mother Columba Hart, O.S.B., and Jane Bishop
Neurologist Oliver Sacks believes that the dazzling visions of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), the great Benedictine abbess and polymath, were caused by migraines. Hildegard struggled with chronic health problems. In Scivias, her first book of visionary theology, she describes being bedridden when she received the divine command to write and speak about her visions that she had kept secret since earliest childhood. Sacks maintains that the symptoms she describes are identical to those of migraine sufferers. He also states that the concentric rings of circles in the illuminations of her visions are reminiscent of a migraine aura.
|Saint Hildegard of Bingen|
Thus, the migraine theory remains speculative. In our hyper-rationalistic age, I think we are too hasty to “diagnose” historical figures with readily identifiable conditions—i.e., “Mozart was autistic.” One thing we do know is that Hildegard lived in an age of faith. She and those around her sincerely believed her visions were real. Hildegard’s epic trilogy of visionary theology relates her revelations of the human struggle for redemption and imparts how the fallen world can be reconciled with the created world. Therein lies her genius, not in any catalogue of physical symptoms.
In Scivias, Hildegard describes her visions in her own words:
The visions I saw I did not perceive in dreams, or sleep, or delirium, or by the eyes of the body, or by the ears of the outer self, or in hidden places; but I received them while awake and seeing with a pure mind and the eyes and the ears of the inner self, in open places, as God willed it. How this might be is hard for mortal flesh to understand.
Long celebrated as a saint in her native Germany, Hildegard was finally canonized in May 2012. In October 2012 the Vatican will elevate Hildegard to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have significantly impacted Church doctrine.
Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is published in October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is a Book of the Month and One Spirit Book Club pick. Visit Mary’s website at www.marysharratt.com.
About the Book
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A triumphant portrait of a resilient and courageous woman and the life she might have lived...
Skillfully interweaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Sharratt’s redemptive novel, 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 entombed in a small room where she was expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died some thirty years later, Hildegard broke out of her prison with the heavenly calling to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters and herself from the soul-destroying anchorage. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.
Giveaway (US & Canada)
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- Giveaway ends on October 26th.
Good luck to all!