The Column Of Burning Spices is book two of the Hildegard of Bingen series. Hildegard is regarded as Germany’s first physician; this book takes place in the twelfth century. You can read my review of book one, The Greenest Branch, here.
A little historic background: the Catholic Church continued with the power struggles between the papacy and the secular rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. During the time of this book, the dispute was over who had the right to appoint Bishops; it caused a civil war.
At the Abbey of St. Disibod, Hildegard’s success as a physician brings useful money to the Abbey, as does her writing on medicines and her faith. But she is constantly despised by Prior Helenger, who has influence over the Abbot, and she faces opposition from other men within the church whom believe that woman should have limited roles.
An opportunity arises for Hildegard and her fellow nuns to leave the Abbey. Hildegard builds a convent around her own principles of peace and harmony. She becomes renowned for her opinion about the corruption which infiltrates and threatens the survival of the church. Slowly, her views on those who seek personal gain from promotion begin to become popular.
The author paints a vivid picture of this period of history. There were a lot of characters in positions of power that were part of the story, but the author dealt with them well, without it feeling like a history lesson. The focus is on Hildegard and her achievements which included writing, composing and philosophy. I particularly enjoyed her thirst for knowledge about healing and the practice of using herbs and hygiene as opposed to bloodletting.
Overall, I thought this series was a very good insight into the life and works of a woman who later became a Saint.
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An ambitious woman. Medieval Church hierarchy. The struggle will be epic.
“A fascinating portrayal of one of history’s most remarkable women, Hildegard of Bingen—composer, mystic, theologian, and physician. The characters and settings come alive on the page, and by the end I felt as if I’d traveled in time to 12th-century Germany.” –C.P. Lesley, author of The Golden Lynx.
In The Column of Burning Spices, part two of the Hildegard of Bingen series which began with The Greenest Branch, the medieval era comes vividly to life in all its romanticism and splendor. However, the societal strictures that prevent women from being able to access education and live independent lives are also on display.
The year is 1143. Hildegard, already a well-known physician, has expanded her work to writing not just about medicine but on theological matters as well. Once again, the monks of St. Disibod are there to stop her, citing the biblical passages that admonish against “women teachers.” Also, Abbot Kuno is aging, and it is only a matter of time before he is succeeded in the post by Prior Helenger, who wants nothing more than to see Hildegard permanently relegated to the convent’s enclosure.
Leaving St. Disibod is Hildegard’s only hope of continuing her mission of healing and writing as she sees fit. She has been saving money from the convent’s endowments for years, but in order to establish her own foundation she will need the backing of a powerful man of the Church. There are several who could become her champions – from the famed Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, to the Archbishop of Mainz, to the newly elected Pope Eugenius III. But will they take up a woman’s cause and subvert centuries of established tradition? And will it be enough to protect Hildegard from a betrayal that lurks closer than she could ever imagine?
Set against the backdrop of the lush oak forests, vineyard-covered hills, and sparkling rivers of the Rhineland, The Column of Burning Spices is a tale of courage, strength, sacrifice, and love that will appeal to fans of Ken Follett, Sharon Kay Penman, Bernard Cornwell, and Conn Iggulden.