The twelfth-century German abbess Hildegard of Bingen was a remarkable woman by any standards. Known for her musical compositions and mystical prayers, Hildegard was also Germany’s first recognized female physician. The daughter of minor nobility, she entered the convent in childhood as a tithe from her parents. Excited by the prospect of acquiring an education, then a goal unattainable for girls outside a convent, Hildegard suffers a setback when she confronts the strict seclusion imposed on nuns by the anchorage of St. Disibod and its ascetic magistra, Jutta of Sponheim. But relief comes from the company of Volmar, a fellow oblate who like Hildegard loves to sneak out of the abbey and walk in the nearby woods, and Brother Wigbert, the monastery’s infirmarian. It’s through the teaching of Brother Wigbert that Hildegard discovers her affinity for medicine.
Alas, not every member of the abbey hierarchy believes that young women should spend time outside the walls of the anchorage, and as political threats from the outside world intensify and Hildegard’s detractors rise higher in the administration, she must fight for her right to practice medicine—and to express her opinion at all. In this charmingly personal account, P. K. Adams explores the first part of Hildegard’s life, the richly developed characters who influenced her, and the factors that gave her the strength to define her own dream and pursue it to fulfillment despite opposition from a society determined to keep her in her place. The story begun in The Greenest Branch (Iron Knight Press, 2018) concludes in The Column of Burning Spices (Iron Knight Press, 2019), where Hildegard leaves the Abbey of St. Disibod to found a convent of her own.
C. P. Lesley is the author of eight novels, including Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, The Swan Princess, The Vermilion Bird, and The Shattered Drum), a historical fiction series set in 1530s Russia, during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.
C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and three other novels. Her latest book, Song of the Sisters, appeared in January 2021.