Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Hildegard comes home

Hildegard's vision of Sapienta, Divine Wisdom

My final revision of my new novel, ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN, are complete. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish the novel in November 2012, just in time for the next US presidential election. HILDEGARD FOR PRESIDENT, PLZ!!!

I've been working on this novel since 2008 and it feels wonderful to finally bring my homage to this very complex and inspiring woman to fruition.

Here's a report about my 2009 pilgrimage to Bingen and Disibodenberg in Germany.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Benedictine abbess and polymath, composed an entire corpus of sacred music and wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as theology, natural science, medicine, and human sexuality—a prodigious intellectual outpouring that put many of her male contemporaries to shame. A mystic and visionary, her prophecies earned her the title Sibyl of the Rhine. An outspoken critic of political and ecclesiastical corruption, she courted controversy and nearly died an excommunicant. Her courage and originality of thought continue to inspire people today.

My novel ILLUMINATIONS reveals the unforgettable story of how Hildegard triumphed against impossible odds to become the greatest woman of her age.

In 1106, eight-year-old Hildegard is offered as a tithe to the Church and bricked into an anchorage with the disturbed Jutta von Sponheim, only fourteen herself. Rejecting Jutta’s masochistic piety, Hildegard’s secret visions comfort her with a far more nurturing face of the divine. She finds an ally in the young monk Volmar who smuggles her books that feed her bottomless hunger for learning.

Jutta’s saintly reputation attracts a following of child dedicants, but her extreme asceticism leads to her premature death. Now thirty-eight, Hildegard must find a way to liberate her sisters from the soul-destroying anchorage. Meanwhile her visions threaten to overwhelm her. Seized by a violent awakening, she must shatter the silence and speak of her revelations of the Living Light. Her abbot, determined to suppress this rebel nun, charges her with heresy.

Hildegard must make the gamble of a lifetime, putting her very life on the line to blaze the trail that will lead her sisters to a free and dignified existence. But she will pay the highest price for her independence of mind. Combining fiction, history, and Hildegardian philosophy, ILLUMINATIONS is my ecstatic homage to a woman of faith and power—a visionary in every sense of the word.

Here are some of the early blurbs we received. My unending gratitude goes out to these wonderful authors for their support and enthusiasm:

“I love Mary Sharratt. The grace of her writing and the grace of her subject combine seamlessly in this wonderful novel about the amazing, too-little-known saint, Hildegard of Bingen, a mystic and visionary. Sharratt captures both the pain and the beauty such gifts bring, as well as bringing to life a time of vast sins and vast redemptions.”

Karleen Koen, author of Before Versailles and the best-selling Through a Glass Darkly

“I loved Mary Sharratt’s Daughters of the Witching Hill, but she has outdone herself with Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. She brings one of the most famous and enigmatic women of the Middle Ages to vibrant life in this tour de force, which will captivate the reader from the very first page.”

Sharon Kay Penman, New York Times bestselling author of Time and Chance

“There is ecstasy in the writing of this redemptive novel of a 12th century woman who found a world of cruelty and filled it with beauty, a powerless woman who discovered her own power and led other women to find their own. Illuminations is a radiantly beautiful book. Readers will long remember Hildegard and the gifts she left us.”

Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozart, Claude & Camille: a >novel of Monet and The Physician of London (American Book Award)

“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

“An enchanting beginning to the story of the perennially fascinating 12th century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen. It is easy to paint a picture of a saint from the outside but much more difficult to show them from the inside. Mary Sharratt has undertaken this with sensitivity and grace.”

Margaret George, author of Elizabeth I and Mary Called Magdalene


  1. You well know I've been waiting a long time for this book to come to fruition, and I am bouncing with delight that there's a set release date. Somehow I imagine a few people will be getting this as Yule gifts next year. ;)


  2. Mary,

    So happy and excited to hear this news about your book on Hildegard! I have been a fan of her for years, so I'm already anxious to get my hands on this book of yours. Having read The Daughters, a book I absolutely loved, I believe I've become a fan of you as well. Advance gratitude for writing about such a wonderfully talented woman.

    Elizabeth G