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With 50th anniversary of Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI is on a mission to rein in what he considers its liberal excesses. The most visible target in his crusade is the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80% of the Catholic sisters and nuns in the U.S. who work in education, health care, social services, and parish ministries. Is this power struggle between nuns and the male hierarchy purely a 21st century phenomenon, or do historical precedents exist?
In Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, author Mary Sharratt weaves historical fact with psychological insight and imagination, bringing to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages who was canonized this year.
Born in an era of deep-seated misogyny, Hildegard was entombed within two small rooms when she was 8 and expected to live out her days in silence as the handmaiden to a renowned and disturbed young nun. After 30 years in that prison, Hildegard triumphed against impossible odds to become one of the greatest voices of her age. She 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 was unprecedented for a 12th century woman. An outspoken critic of corruption, she courted controversy and nearly died an excommunicate. Hildegard’s courage and originality of thought, as well as her ethereal music, continue to inspire people of diverse faith backgrounds today.
Mary Sharratt is an award-winning author who has written the acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, The Vanishing Point, and co-edited the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, which celebrates female anti-heroes--strong women who break all the rules.
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