Hildegard experienced and suffered a deep meta-anxiety in her forced walled-up existence, her Holocaust complete. And as anyone imprisoned against their will--she dreamt of freedom. Only one faithful friend, a young man who lived nearby, assuaged her isolation. Hildegard was a defenseless, vulnerable, nascent seeker of nothing she could put her finger on.
Yet she exhibited fearless curiosity about life and death. So after the death of her turnkey jailor Jutta, Hildegard wanted immediately to examine the tortured corpse. In life, Jutta spared no extremes of self-torture and one of the last things she did to herself was to wrap a chain around her torso where it buried itself deep into her mortal flesh. The sight of Jutta’s corpse must have been horrific.
This historically accurate self-torture combined with a dark secret led to an early demise for Jutta and the advent of freedom for Hildegard. Captivity and self-flagellation taught Hildegard that you can’t fool God or expect salvation from what Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined “cheap grace”—it would not fit her or her future followers.
Mary Sharratt has written a distinct historical novel set in medieval Germany of struggle and spiritual evolution in the life of girl taken from hearth and home to accompany a holy woman in a walled-up spiritual society. Hildegard’s revolt from constriction led her to become a beloved abbess and now candidate for sainthood, although she has long been called St. Hildegard.
I read this book from cover to cover and without reserve highly recommend it. Illuminations shed mosaic stained-glass light on Hildegard’s fame from visions, artistry, and composing holy music as Benedictine abbess strong. Will she become the new patron saint of Germany or occupy a spiritual niche as most saints do? That remains to be seen. It will be up to the German people who have come a long way: from the anti-Semitic speeches of Martin Luther to the nazification of Christianity (German Christians), to a German pope. But what is certain is that her fellow countryman Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will declare her a saint October 21, 2012.