I love reading about the Saints and I love historical fiction, but typically putting the two together makes for a disappointing read, in my opinion. Good historical fiction authors are difficult to find in Catholic bookstores, so I was pleased to find Illuminations, a novel about the life of Hildegard von Bingen, written by a mainstream historical fiction author.
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was placed in an anchorage at the age of 8. An anchorage is much stricter than a typical convent, as in Hildegard’s case, she was bricked in with her Magistra, Jutta, in one room with a small courtyard. Sharratt did a wonderful job of showing how Hildegard, as a small child, might have struggled with this imprisonment. It was Jutta who desired to be a great saint, but ultimately it was Hildegard, with her humility and self-sacrifice, who took was given that place in history.
Throughout Hildegard’s life, she experienced visions, which ultimately led to God’s instructing her to write them down. The author rightly addresses the difficulties Hildegard must have faced with her male superiors in the Church, but there is something that strikes me as feminist leaning in the author’s writing. I feel that Hildegard’s true love for her God, nor a constancy in humility, did not adequately come through in this novel. Perhaps it was for the sake of an engaging novel, but I think the author should have made a better attempt to portray this woman as the saint she was. Still, I very much enjoyed this novel, and look forward to reading other books by Mary Sharratt.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Hildegard von Bingen and declared her a Doctor of the Church.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
Amazon Book Preview of Illuminations