October 03, 2012

Giveaway! Illuminations by Mary Sharratt

October 9th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Please welcome author Mary Sharratt during her blog tour for her October 2012 release of Illuminations, and see the bottom of the post for a book giveaway of Illuminations!

The Soul is Symphonic: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen

Born in the Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) was a visionary nun and polymath. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, and wrote nine books addressing both scientific and religious subjects, an unprecedented accomplishment for a 12th-century woman. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine.

873 years after her death, Hildegard was canonized in May 2012 and will be elevated to Doctor of the Church in October, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have made a significant impact.

But to most people today, Hildegard is known best for her soaring ethereal music.

The first composer for whom we have a biography, she composed seventy-seven sacred songs, as well as Ordo Virtutum, a liturgical drama set to music.

Her melodies are completely unlike the plainchant of her era—or anything that has come before or since. Likewise her lyrics are highly original and feel fresh to us even today. She was the only 12th century writer to compose in free verse.

A Benedictine superior, Hildegard and her nuns sang the Divine Office eight times a day. She believed that song was the highest form of prayer—the mystical power of music reunited humankind to the ecstasy and beauty of paradise before the fall, connecting the singer directly with the divine, and joining heaven and earth in a great celestial harmony.

Singing the divine praises was absolutely central to Hildegard’s identity as a nun. But late in her life, the great composer and polymath was silenced.

Hildegard and her nuns were subject to an interdict, or collective excommunication, when they refused to disinter a supposed apostate buried in their churchyard. As punishment for their disobedience, they were forbidden the sacraments, the mass, even forbidden to sing the Divine Office.

It was the prohibition against singing that hit Hildegard the hardest. She wrote a passionate letter to her archbishop in protest. “The soul is symphonic,” she told him. She also warned him that by forbidding her and her daughters from singing God’s praise, the archbishop himself risked going to an afterlife destination where there was no music, ie hell.

Hildegard’s words seemed to give the man pause for thought. He lifted the interdict just a few months before her death in 1179.

“There is the music of heaven in all things,” Hildegard wrote. “But we have forgotten to hear it until we sing.”

I find her song Caritas Abundant in Omnia (Divine Love Abounds in All Things) to be particularly stirring. Hildegard conceived of Caritas, or Divine Love, as a feminine figure, an aspect of the Feminine Divine:
 Caritas habundat in omnia

Divine love abounds in all things.
She is greatly exalted from the depths to the heights,
Above the highest stars,
And most loving towards all things,
For she gave the highest King the kiss of peace.

Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is published in October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is a Book of the Month and One Spirit Book Club pick. Visit Mary’s website: www.marysharratt.com 

Synopsis of Illuminations: Illuminations chronicles the life of Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), who was tithed to the church at the age of eight and 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 three decades 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.

Like Anita Diamant’s portrayal of Dinah in The Red Tent, Mary Sharratt interweaves historical research with psychological insight and vivid imagination to write an engaging and triumphant portrait of a courageous and remarkably resilient woman and the life she might have lived. Deeply affecting, Illuminations is a testament to the power of faith, love, and self-creation.

  To enter the giveaway for your own copy of Illuminations, please comment here with your email address. What intrigues you about Illuminations? Open to USA and Canada followers of HF-Connection, contest ends on 10/8/2012 and will be announced 10/9/2012 on the release day of Illuminations!


  1. I love reading about intriguing women in history. So many of them are lost to us since they were not considered important. It is wonderful when so much of a female life is recorded and respected from a time when women in general were not. I'm also fascinated with religious histories.
    thank you
    kaiminani at gmail dot com

  2. From reading historical fiction novels about nuns and religious houses, I have become fascinated with this sub-genre. I have read other novels by Mary Sharratt and I know I will enjoy this one. Thanks for the giveaway.

  3. I can't wait to read this! Just the fact that it is by Mary Sharrat is intriguing because I've enjoyed her past work, but reading about the plot makes me wonder how Hildegard found the strength to break against the conventions of her time. Thanks for a great giveaway!

  4. I really enjoyed reading Anita Diamant's books and I've heard this book has a similar style. Plus, I've never had the pleasure of reading about 11th century Rhineland. Have never read anything Mary Sharrat but I love reading stories about strong women!

    lafra86 at gmail dot com

  5. Having a love of music and a singer myself this book sounds like a wonderful combonation of history and music. I have never heard of this story before. Very intriguing. I have to read this!!!! Adding it on goodreads right now


  6. I also love to read about strong and inspiring women who lived during a time when women were thought of as otherwise. The religious aspect also piques my interest so I am very much looking forward to reading this story.


  7. Wow, she sounds like such a remarkable woman! For her to have accomplished so much at a time when women did not do so easily is astounding. I would love to read more about her!
    Colleen Turner

  8. This sounds incredibly different than most of my other hf reads. And for her to be the first to compose free lyrics in such an early period in history- and to be a woman- and in a religious environment...This is well worth reading for me. I love the arts, the history and strong historical women especially. Enter me please!

  9. Thanks for the nice post and giveaway! I've run across mentions of Hildegard before in music appreciation and art history, and my mother has her herbal, so I'd like to learn more about the historical personage who seems to be unusual for a woman of her time and involved in many different fields.

    bookwormsusanna AT gmail DOT com

  10. I love reading about strong women of years past, this one looks so interesting.


  11. Thank you for your wonderful comments, everyone! May Hildegard and her music inspire us all!

  12. This one looks fascinating, and it goes without saying that it'll be well-written!

  13. I, too, am looking forward to reading ILLUMINATIONS. Too few books have been written about the extraordinary women whose brave lives have strengthen the Church, and for a woman to be the writer is something else to herald. Thanks, Mary Sharratt!

    Judi Rohrig
    judirohrig (at) gmail (dot) com

  14. I can't wait to read more from Mary Sharratt! her intelligence and thoughtful writing are outstanding.

  15. This sounds fascinating. I'm really looking forward to it.

  16. I've been excited about this book for many months now! I cannot wait to read it!

  17. I read a book about her many years ago (can't recall the title) and would love to read this!
    She was a fascinating woman.

  18. I would love to win this one! This period in history is really intriguing to me, and I've read several non-fiction pieces about her in a Memoir/Spiritual Quest class.

    Thanks for the chance!


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  20. Mary Sharratt consistently manifests the meaningful.
    (my email is: dreamwandbooks@yahoo.com)

  21. I love history and this sounds like a beautiful read :) Thank you for the opportunity!

  22. First, I follow this blog by email.


    I'm not only intrigued that a woman in Hildegard's time accomplished so much but that she was a nun. I'm also interested in Mary Sharott, a new-to-me author.


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