Hildegard, the Last Year

Barbara Lachman, Author
Barbara Lachman, Author Shambhala Publications $20 (160p) ISBN 978-1-57062-315-8
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-1-57062-393-6
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An uneducated noblewoman who had received divine visions since birth, the 12th-century mystic Hildegard Bingen faced powerful opposition when she established her own convent. The elderly prioress's final political struggle is the basis for metaphysical reflection in the somewhat awkward but essentially rewarding sequel to medievalist Lachmann's The Journal of Hildegard Bingen. When Hildegard's convent refuses to exhume the body of a man alleged to have been excommunicated, she and her nuns are forbidden to celebrate the Divine Office, the cycle of chants at the core of their religious existence. Hildegard remains convinced that divine power guides her actions: she believes the man had been received back into the Christian church before his death. But she and her followers suffer sorely from their enforced silence. Lachman's examination of the relation between the senses and the inner life is at times delicate and compelling, but the story never quite balances fact and fictional speculation. When Lachman shifts between historical and narrative gears, the pause in momentum nearly stalls the reader: the plot is barely a plot at all, and its attempts at dramatic effect merely distract the reader from the more successful aspects of the book's sensuous observation. At her best, Lachmann concentrates on the minutiae of Hildegard's outer life and on the religious meditations that hold so much interest for theologians and historians today. (Oct.)
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