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

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen
by Mary Sharratt

Publication Date:  October 9, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Reviewed By:  Amy Bruno
Rating:  4/5


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.


I became a fan of author Mary Sharratt when I read her novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, so I've been anticipating the release of Illuminations with great excitement and when I was offered the opportunity to review it I jumped at the chance! 

Illuminations tells the story of Hildegard von Bingen, who as a young girl was offered to the church as a companion to an anchorite nun, Jutta Von Sponheim.  At the tender age of eight Hildegard was sealed in a small cell with Jutta where she would remain for over two decades.  Once Jutta dies Hildegard works tirelessly to free her fellow nuns from the isolation of the anchorage and moves them to their own monastery at St. Rupertsberg where she serves as Prioress.  Throughout her life Hildegard experienced religious visions and she would eventually record them into three works.  She also wrote plays, music and books on natural medicine.  Hildegard was recently canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict XVI.  She is only one of four women to be named a Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church.

Mary Sharratt's writing is pure excellence!  She has a way of pulling the reader in and keeping them hooked.  Even though a majority of the book takes place in a tiny room there were never any slow or boring parts.  Hildegard was truly an amazing and inspiring woman and Sharratt does a fabulous job at bringing her to life!  Highly recommended!

About the Author

Mary Sharratt is an American writer who lives with her Belgian husband in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed 2010 novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers.

Previously she lived for twelve years in Germany. This, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write her most recent novel, ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN, which explores the dramatic life of the 12th century Benedictine abbess, composer, polymath, and powerfrau.

Winner of the 2005 WILLA Literary Award and a Minnesota Book Award Finalist, Mary has also written the acclaimed novels SUMMIT AVENUE (Coffee House 2000), THE REAL MINERVA (Houghton Mifflin 2004), THE VANISHING POINT (Houghton Mifflin 2006), and co-edited the subversive fiction anthology BITCH LIT (Crocus Books 2006), which celebrates female anti-heroes--strong women who break all the rules. Her short fiction has been published in TWIN CITIES NOIR (Akashic Books 2006).

Mary writes regular articles for Historical Novels Review and Solander on the theme of writing women back into history. When she isn't writing, she's usually riding her spirited Welsh mare through the Lancashire countryside.

For more information on Mary Sharratt and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE.

To win a copy of Illuminations please enter my giveaway HERE.



  1. Apart from the story I like the cover of this book so much.

  2. How in the world did I miss "Historical Novels Review"?? Can't wait to not only read Illuminations but also more of this incredible historical fiction resource!! :)

  3. This would not be a book I would ever think to read on my own, but your review makes me want to read it.

  4. This book looks amazing! I am a historical fiction fanatic. In fact, I just finished reading "Quest for the Lost Name" by George Makris tonight and have been desperately looking around for a new read. Thank you for suggesting this book. Can't wait to check it out.


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