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BKMT READING GUIDES
Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen
by Mary Sharratt
Hardcover : 288 pages
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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.
“With elegance and sensitivity, Mary Sharratt rescues Hildegard von Bingen from the obscurity of legend, bringing to life the flesh-and-blood woman in all her conflict, faith, and unwavering tenacity. Illuminations is an astonishing revelation of a visionary leader willing to sacrifice everything to defend her beliefs in a dangerous time of oppression.”
—C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
Editorial ReviewNo editorial review at this time.
ExcerptShe is so bright and glorious that you cannot look at her face or her garments for the splendor with which she shines. For she is terrible with the terror of the avenging lightening, and gentle with the goodness of the bright sun; and both her terror and her gentleness are incomprehensible to humans . . . . But she is with everyone and in everyone, and so beautiful is her secret that no person can know the sweetness with which she sustains people, and spares them in inscrutable mercy. ... view entire excerpt...
Discussion Questions1. Hildegard's mother Mechthild offers eight-year-old Hildegard as a tithe to the Church and allows her to be entombed for life with the fourteen-year-old anchorite, Jutta von Sponheim. What do you think Mechthild's motives were? Do you think it was an easy decision for her? In our secular age, do some parents still make such drastic and irreversible choices for their young children?
2. Eight year old Hildegard is bricked into an anchorage to serve Jutta, who starves and beats herself in the pursuit of holiness. What enables Hildegard to survive in such an environment without being dragged down into Jutta's madness? What makes Hildegard so resillient that she is eventually able to break free of her prison with her mind and spirit still intact?
3. Hildegard experiences luminous visions of the feminine divine. Why do you think the divine appears to her in feminine form? How do the experiences of women mystics such as Hildegard and Julian of Norwich, who called God Mother, differ from that of their male counterparts?
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