Tuesday, November 5, 2013

HFVBT: Mary Sharratt's Illuminations--Guest Post and {Giveaway} #IlluminationsTour

Were Hildegard von Bingen’s Visions Caused by Migraines?
By Mary Sharratt

When I was forty-two years and seven months old, Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch.
--Hildegard von Bingen, Scivias, translated by Mother Columba Hart, O.S.B., and Jane Bishop

Neurologist Oliver Sacks believes that the dazzling visions of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), the great Benedictine abbess and polymath, were caused by migraines. Hildegard struggled with chronic health problems. In Scivias, her first book of visionary theology, she describes being bedridden when she received the divine command to write and speak about her visions that she had kept secret since earliest childhood. Sacks maintains that the symptoms she describes are identical to those of migraine sufferers. He also states that the concentric rings of circles in the illuminations of her visions are reminiscent of a migraine aura.

Critics of this theory will point out that Hildegard, in her medical treatise Causae et Curae, described the migraine in detail but never connected this diagnosis to herself. Moreover she herself did not paint the illuminations that illustrated her visions. So the rings of light could be the illuminator’s stylistic interpretation and unrelated to any alleged visual hallucinations on Hildegard’s part. The migraine sufferers I know in my own life regrettably report that they’ve never beheld wondrous visions.

Thus, the migraine theory remains speculative. In our hyper-rationalistic age, I think we are too hasty to “diagnose” historical figures with readily identifiable conditions—i.e., “Mozart was autistic.” One thing we do know is that Hildegard lived in an age of faith. She and those around her sincerely believed her visions were real. Hildegard’s epic trilogy of visionary theology relates her revelations of the human struggle for redemption and imparts how the fallen world can be reconciled with the created world. Therein lies her genius, not in any catalogue of physical symptoms.

In Scivias, Hildegard describes her visions in her own words:

The visions I saw I did not perceive in dreams, or sleep, or delirium, or by the eyes of the body, or by the ears of the outer self, or in hidden places; but I received them while awake and seeing with a pure mind and the eyes and the ears of the inner self, in open places, as God willed it. How this might be is hard for mortal flesh to understand.

Long celebrated as a saint in her native Germany, Hildegard was finally canonized in May 2012. In October 2012 the Vatican elevated Hildegard to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for the most significant theologians.

About the book
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Mariner Books
Paperback; 288p
ISBN-10: 0544106539

Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the most 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.

Praise for Illuminations

"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 Mary, Called Magdalene

"I loved Mary Sharratt’s The Daughters of 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, author of the New York Times bestseller Time and Chance

"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

Pick up a copy at...

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books A Million | Indiebound

About the author
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.

For more information please visit Mary's website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. 

Visit other blogs on the tour--Tour Schedule
Twitter Hashtag: #IlluminationsTour

Watch for my review of Illuminations coming up tomorrow!

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  1. I don't believe in Divine Visions but some people have experienced them in near death experiences. A migraine does produce visions.

  2. Emma @ Words And PeaceNovember 5, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    I don't think migraines could have produced such amazing vision inspired art

  3. I added this title to my wish list over a year ago, for two reasons: I've read other novels by this author which I enjoyed, and since reading about Julian of Norwich several years ago, I've been fascinated by medieval women with visions.

  4. The migraines explain the "aura", but not everything else. It's hard to say there wasn't other things going on with her too (remember the Salem Witch accusations blamed on ergot?)

  5. That's a tough call. I would feel presumptuous forming an opinion without having experienced it personally. I've never had a migraine, and I'm fairly certain I've never experienced a divine vision, so I'm not one to judge.

  6. I find this theory interesting on so many levels. I can't tell you how many times I've read about the various ailments that Henry VIII and other monarchs suffered. I think that it's possible and very probably that these historical figures may have suffered from certain illnesses, but I don't think it's for us to decide which ones, if any. For someone like Hildegard, I think her visions came to her and whatever caused them, whether people believe God sent them to her or she had migraines, doesn't matter too much in the long run, at least to me. Her writings are there for us to read, and so is this amazing novel!
    I can't wait to read it :) Thanks for the giveaway and the great post!

  7. It is fascinating. I'm not sure I know what to believe.

  8. I am more apt to believe in divine visions than this sort of thing being caused by migraines. That sounds more like someone trying to rationalize something they don't understand to me. Thanks for the post and giveaway!

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