*Blog Book Tour*: Illuminations by Mary Sharratt

Posted Friday, 1 November, 2013 by jorielov , , 1 Comment

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Illuminations: {A novel of Hildegard von Bingen} by Mary Sharratt

Iluminations by Mary Sharratt Book Tour HFVBT
Published ByHoughton Mifflin Harcourt, 9 October, 2012
Published By: Mariner Books, 15 October, 2013 [paperback edition]
Official Author Websites: Sharratt on Facebook; Sharratt on Twitter;
Personal Website and Blog.
Available Formats: Paperback, Hardback, and E-Book
Page Count: 288

Acquired Book By: Winning a contest adverted through “Shelf Awareness for Readers” bi-weekly newsletter, October 2012. I received the hardcover book direct from the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt without obligation to post a review. When I started to work with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, I made a request to join this book tour, as due to different reasons I have not yet had the pleasure of reading this book! I thought it would be lovely to participate in a blog book tour on behalf of a book I was rather intrigued to start reading! I was thankful to be selected to participate on the tour! I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts herein.

Original Interest to Read: I originally had discovered the author and the book on Book Browse prior to seeing the contest on Shelf Awareness. I was swept away by the research, the passion, and the dedication Sharratt enfused into the book “Illuminations” as it was not only a historical biography of a woman very few of us would have uncovered without her efforts, but it felt like a living testament of how the strength of a woman can make a marked change on the world around her. I have always celebrated the lives of women who stand up for social injustice as well as indoctrinated wrongs that others’ might be too passive to attack themselves. As women, we’re given a beautiful gift of being able to use our enlightened minds for the power of positive change, and I felt as I read the synopsis and words on this book, that that is exactly the type of story that would envelope me if I read Hildegard’s story.

Design HMary SharrattAuthor Biography:

The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year.

Book Synopsis:

Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the Illuminations by Mary Sharrattmost 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 expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.

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Out of Darkness and Anguish,…

The opening bits of Illuminations, is guttingly honest and real, as Hildegard is in her elder years of seventy on the brink of eighty, whilst on the precipice of a vengeful storm requiring sufferance! Her longanimity of the impeding darkness that is about to swirl around herself and the daughters’ in her charge is of impeccable clarity! How she endeavoured to have the forethought to circumvent the discretion of a buried soul with the full knowledge of how severely the act would affect her, is beyond comprehension; except to say, her raw courage was fully illumine from a source greater than the wrath of man! The quotation that Sharratt used as preface to Chapter One, taken from Hildegard’s own writings on how she foresaw the Feminine Divine is stirringly moving to the point of feeling an inward sense of calm. Which you reflect upon whilst reading where we enter her life at such an arduous time that bespeaks a greater evocable merit of trust. I had a forbearance of knowing, that her humble protection of humanity will become the forefront of her life.

Her solitude of being cast into a brick tiered wall of the Anchorite chamber made me lament about how at such a young age of eight she was sent into darkness to seek out the light. Her anguish for losing her innocence and childhood vexed her as she grew accustomed to being shrouded in a tomb. Her only outside contact was through a grate and a window on high that allowed in bits of the outside world through its portal. I wondered how she fought her discourse to crave into an inward spiral and instead, constantly found the ability to dig deeper and seek out the light. I think if she had not been blessed with the orbs (visions), she might have lost herself in that dark space whilst she spent her young years on a sojourn for learning and knowledge. Her life lessons came to her abruptly at an age where most of us are still exploring our environments, testing the wills of independence, and finding our voice, confidence, and the path of interest we wish to walk as we age.

To illumine the mind and strengthen the spirit,…

I have always known of the interconnectedness of humanity, the natural world, and the realm behind the veil of this world which is the gateway to spirit world. Each of us is connected to each other and to what is not yet understood though believed to be in existence on faith alone. What I appreciated about reading Hilegard’s story is that she is touching on the elemental truths that each spiritual person comes to realise and accept: the circle of life and of time, the abundance of the interlocking connections, and how we are only in the infancy of our understandings of the greater whole that we strive to obtain whilst we walk Earth.

By examining her life through this biographic exposition, we are striving to become closer to understanding what she came to understand herself. Each of us are given gifts in life to share and pass down, small legacies of goodwill, hope, peace, love, charity, and grace. We tap into where our lifepath is leading us whilst we are openly receptive to where we are being guided to go next. Hilegard was unique in this, as she viewed herself as a flawed human who made more mistakes than deemed repentable, and yet, she could not help acknowledge that she had become a vessel of truth, as chosen as her destiny to give others’ insight that they were not privy too. She reminds me of women I have heard about prior to her, who never felt they were good enough to be placed in a position of importance. How humbling it is then, to realise that these are the women and spiritual beings who are called upon to do the most good during their lifetime!? To ingenuate a plausibility of which most of us might forego or bypass whilst caught up in the clatterment of living our lives!?

A wordsmith of Divine Grace:

The words in which consume Illuminations, are set on a higher keeling of intellect, that draw the reader forward and back into a time whereupon the essence of explaining the Divine in singular breaths of words was not as readily forthright to convey, as it was a time in need of edifying the truth by which was shown to the limited few who could hear the Voice. Sharratt has undertaken a gift for channeling the words of which Hildegard herself might have used to express not only the experiences of her life, but of the time in which she lived. The story begins in 1177, set on the cusp between the 12th and 13th centuries, in a time of harrowing and clandestine turmoil. And, yet Sharratt has a way of speaking through the essence of Hildegard as though we can be transported back into her timescape, wholly aware of her surroundings, and seeing everything unfold as it once did for her. Including glimmerments of her internal thoughts and emotional angst. There are poetic ruminations throughout the text that draw you into the story and let’s your imagination not skip forward off the page your eyes are consuming.

Hilegard’s humbleness is infused with her fortitude, for not only being a woman in high regard in her abbey but to have reached an apex of celebrity amongst her peers in the Church and Orders, due to her gift for visionary prophecies. Her elucidate nature of being a woman who thinks before she speaks, and one who doesn’t falter in will when she is taken unawares proves that she internally had strengthened herself long ago in her younger years to be anchored to her faith.

Review of Illuminations:

Hilegard von Bingen was a Renaissance Woman ahead of her time, given the hour of her birth and the compass point of her life. Alongside da Vinci, she embarked on not only ascertaining a living truth of Latin and Religion, but of each interconnected subject and topic that would cross sect with an interest that was at the tip of importance for knowledge of what would become imparted to her through visionary grace. She was a formidable woman whose humble nature did not wish to extract her weaknesses, but rather shed light on them for what they were and to utilize her strengths when necessity demanded them.

As a young child growing up surrounded by the Crusades, she was given her first taste of the visions that would later set the course of her life. I was touched by how genuinely innocent they were and how frequent they would visit her, hoping to find a way for her to yield to her gift. I’d imagine that most youngsters at the age of five might rather attempt to ‘fit in’ than to be cast out as an enigma! For this, I musefully could understand her reasoning! How she drew upon a strength of resolve to survive her cast into an Anchorite Order at the age of eight, I do not readily know! Yet, she embodied a pure caste of curiosity, which strove for her to further her knowledge, and learn as much as her mind could encompass. In that regard, I believe her will to learn became her first saving grace whilst she was entombed as an Anchorite.

I was not quite prepared for how long her term as an Anchorite would last, as she was well into her mid-thirties when I realised just how long she had been in captivity! She even sacrificed her own freedom to save two young girls whose plight in life would have been doubly worse than had they joined her. My heart ached for all three of them, and for the fourth, Jutta who long ago had given up on living, wretched by a transgression made against her and blackened against all light and love. They had few moments of joy, but for the most part, their lives were endured by an endless see of ritual, rite, and prayer.

Hilegard’s inner resolve to find peace with her faith and with her lot in life is a testament to how we each struggle to make sense of the circumstances that arise that lay obstacles in our path. Each of us is walking our own path towards understanding, for where we are meant to live as much as how we are meant to live. Her solitude from the outside world provided her with wisdom that even she, I dare not think, could fully grasp or understand. She was given visions of knowledge that fall outside the realm of what we would regularly be led to see. Her maternal nature I think, is one of her greatest gifts, as she unearthed of all the attributes that we are bestowed it’s our ability to love and give love that counts the most on high.

In the midst of lost hope, she found liberty and justice. Her heart swelled for the freedom which she was finally granted to live as a proper nun, rather than an entombed Anchorite. I could relate to her attachment to the natural world and the calm balm of insight and mirth that walking in nature can give you. She found God’s light and joy nestled amongst the woods, herbs, and flowers. As much as basking in the glow of the warming sun. How I have oft found myself swept into warm embrace that walking in nature can afford! If we look keenly, we shall see His light wherever we turn.

Illluminations is an apt title to give this story, because it is also its central theme. The luminescent purity of God’s spoken word igniting itself into her mind, heart, and soul. And, yet, Illuminations also spoke to me of the whispers of truth and guidance that sometimes we try to sweep away, not willing to accept them for what they are and for the reason by which they were given to us. I think the best gift of her life is to remain true to ourselves, but yield to the will of God even if the path He is placing in front of us has its share of tribulations, it’s the bits we cannot yet see that come through on the other side of our discomfort that lead to our restitution.

A note of gratitude:

I am always fervently thankful for authors who conduct intensive research to breathe life into their stories with such an exquisite hand of probable narrative, that when you go to read a biographical fiction accountment of a life once lived, that there are enough pieces and fragments of the person etched into the text your reading. I am thankful to say, it would appear that Sharratt is one such writer who is happily consumed and entrenched in the work that goes into fortifying the story with historical remnants and facts. I haven’t read other biographies of Hilegard von Bingen, as this is the first book that tipped my hat of interest towards learning more about her, but the voice of Hilegard inside Illuminations is one that begs you to give her a chance to say her peace. She’s an unassuming woman whose faith tested her in ways that not all of us could have endured. She appears to have longed for a bit of normalcy even within the confines of her vows, which thankfully, if history and fact are correct in this account, she at least found a bit of that when the bricks of her hidden prison were taken down.

Sharratt gives you a lot to chew on whilst your reading, from the way in which she paints the visions to life, to the contemplations of the human spirit, the Divine Grace, and the elements of faith and spirituality itself. She gives you a hearty tome of reflection and presents a woman who lived in touch with the Feminine Divine. I marked this as “Inspirational Fiction” as I think it befits that declaration as much as “Historical Fiction” and “Biographical Fiction”, as religion and spirituality are at the core and heart of this story, yet the time in which she lived is so far removed from modern eras it’s historically inclined to be reflective of how we perceive the 12th Century through the modern lens we approach it by.

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“Illuminations” Book Trailer by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Converse About “Illuminations”
via the Discussion Guide:

[ IF you have read the book, I encourage you to open a conversation
in the comments section below!]

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt — Discussion Questions

by Houghton Miffton Harcourt

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The “Iluminations” Virtual Book Tour Roadmap:
  1. 14 October: Review @ The Maiden’s Court
  2. 15 October: Review (from 2012) Interview @ Unabridged Chick
  3. 16 October: Review @ Bitches with Books
  4. 17 October: Review @ Flashlight Commentary
  5. 17 October: Review @ A Bookish Libraria
  6. 18 October: Interview @ Flashlight Commentary
  7. 21 October: Review @ Book of Secrets
  8. 22 October: Review @ The Most Happy Reader
  9. 22 October: Review @ Book Lovers Paradise
  10. 23 October: Review @ Books, Belles, and Beaux
  11. 23 October: Review @ Confessions of an Avid Reader
  12. 24 October: Review @ Just One More Chapter
  13. 24 October: Guest Post @ Books, Belles, and Beaux
  14. 25 October: Interview @ Just One More Chapter
  15. 28 October: Review @ Bloggin’ bout Books
  16. 29 October: Review @ Griperangs Bookmarks
  17. 29 October: Guest Post @ HF Book Muse – News
  18. 30 October: Review @ Ageless Pages Reviews
  19. All Saint’s Day: Review @ Jorie Loves A Story
  20. All Saint’s Day: Review @ Broken Teepee
  21. 4 November: Review @ Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
  22. 5 November: Review @ The True Book Addict
  23. 5 November: Interview @ Erika Mailman Blog
  24. 6 November: Review @ CelticLady’s Reviews
  25. 6 November: Guest Post @ The True Book Addict
  26. 7 November: Review @ Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
  27. 8 November: Review @ History and Women
  28. 8 November: Interview @ Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
  29. 11 November: Review @ A Bookish Affair
  30. 11 November: Review @ Closed the Cover
  31. 12 November: Review @ vvb32reads
  32. 12 November: Guest Post @ A Bookish Affair
  33. 13 November: Review @ The Musings of ALMYBNENR
  34. 14 November: Review @ So Many Books, So Little Time
  35. 14 November: Feature @ Book-alicious Mama
  36. 15 November: Review @ Books in the Burbs
  37. 16 November: Book Spotlight @ Passages to the Past
IF you want to follow the conversation by Twitter, please tune into: #IlluminationsTour There is also a Twitter share button below this post for your convenience as well.

Be sure to scope out upcoming tours I will be hosting with:

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours - HFVBTon my Bookish Events Featured on JLAS

{SOURCES: Cover art of “Illuminations” as well as Mary Sharratt’s photograph and biography, the blog tour badge, and the logo banner for HFVBT were all provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and used with permission. The book trailer by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as well as the discussion guide via Scribd had either URL share links or coding which made it possible to embed this media portal to this post, and I thank them for the opportunity to share more about this novel and the author who penned it. Post dividers were provided by Shabby Blogs, who give bloggers free resources to add personality to their blogs. Blog tour badge provided by Parajunkee to give book bloggers definition on their blogs. }

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2013.

Related Articles:

Hildegard of Bingen – (en.wikipedia.org)

Polymath – (en.wikipedia.org)

Doctor of the Church – (en.wikipedia.org)

Primary Source Breaththrough! – Hilegard’s Letter to the Prelates of Mainz (symphonialisestanima.wordpress.com)

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all. "I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story) more >> | Hire me as a betareader | Policies & Review Requests
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Posted Friday, 1 November, 2013 by jorielov in 12th Century, Benedictine Abbess, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Book Browse, Christian Mystic, Composer, Early Middle Ages [the Dark Ages] (1001-1300), High Middle Ages (1000-1299), Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Inspirational Fiction & Non-Fiction, Nun, Philosopher, Polymath, Scribd, Shelf Awareness, Writer

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One response to “*Blog Book Tour*: Illuminations by Mary Sharratt

  1. Bairbre

    A riveting protrayal of a Benedictine Abbess who lived in solitude and prison but due to her visions and illuminations of the divine was able to go inward and be saved. As a wordsmith, you cast forth a rare glimpse of Hildegarde and her visions which draws you closer into her world. It’s these kinds of reviews that draws you deeper into the world of the author who researched and penned the book “Illuminations” and leaves you wanting for more.

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