I first learned about Hildegard von Bingen during a medieval studies course I took during my undergraduate degree. My professor, who was brilliant, painted a vivid portrayal of a woman, who against all odds, rose to become a revered prophet and visionary within the church. We learned of Hildegard's illuminated visions & the awesome (I mean this in the traditional sense) choral music she created. But my interest and further study of her halted when her section in our curriculum was over, and it wasn't until several weeks ago when I discovered Canticles of Ecstasy on iTunes that my interests re-ignited.
I knew I didn't want' to re-discover my interest in Hildegard through a purely academic source first; I didn't want my curiosity tempered by the cool objectivity of some Dr. talking to me through a seminar paper. I sought out Google's wisdom. What I found was a novel by Mary Sharratt called Illuminations. Turning to my trusty OverDrive app, I searched for the novel and miraculously, I found it.
What transpires in Illuminations is nothing short of captivating. Uncannily accurate to historical facts and beautifully poetic in its fictional deviations, Sharratt creates Hildegard's world and experiences from the time she is given to Jutta to be enclosed in Disibodenberg, to her last days in Rupertsberg, the monastery she founded in 1150, with incredible detail and precision.
I give Illuminations five stars, high marks, and an enthusiastic recommendation. Don't be scared off by not knowing much about this historical figure going into the text - just enjoy. But before reading, I'd recommend allowing yourself to get swept up in some of her music available on iTunes first:
- Hildegard von Bingen: Celestial Hierarchy, Sequentia 1994
- Hildegard: Canticles of Ecstasy, Sequentia 1993
- Hildegard von Bingen: Heavenly Revelations, Jeremy Summerly, 1995