In the late 1990s, the Benedictine Saint John’s University and Abbey commissioned Donald Jackson, master calligrapher and Chief Scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, to create the first hand-illuminated Bible in 500 years: The Saint John’s Bible. The work was conceived of as a “gift to the world” in celebration of the approaching new millennium. It was to link the human hand with the word of God, and to capture the magnificent story of humanity with a modern vision.
“What I love about The Saint John’s Bible is that it is a compelling Benedictine work that can bring together many different areas of the college,” says Bro. Isaac Murphy, O.S.B., Vice President for Academic Affairs. “This fine press rare book supports the curriculum, both for Conversatio and Biblical Literacy, but also engages the Fine Arts, plays off nicely with some aspects of the permanent collections of both the Chapel Art Center and the Geisel Library, and, as the inspired Word of God, this volume of sacred scripture will provide a profoundly spiritual and Christocentric focus for campus life over the course of this academic year.”
The manuscript was created using medieval methods and materials including calfskin vellum, goose quills and handmade inks, gold, platinum and silver. The illuminations illustrate biblical themes through a lens of modern theological and global issues, incorporating many scientific and historical references into the visual design, and utilizing divergent styles of traditional and more contemporary art throughout.
The original has been on view at Saint John’s University in Minnesota since it was finished in May 2011. Scholars have compared the scope of achievement to that of The Sistine Chapel, and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI stated “This is a work of art, a great work of art…a work for eternity.”
Part of the project was the creation of a fine-art printed edition called The Heritage Edition, which was designed to bring this monumental work of sacred art to the world. This edition is limited to 299 sets of seven books.
This year, the Geisel Library has on display one of the seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition as Saint Anselm College participates in the program “A Year with The Saint John’s Bible.” The volume, Gospels and Acts, is a richly illustrated facsimile of the original Bible manuscript. Gospels and Acts was put on display on the main floor of the Geisel Library on September 30, and will remain until October 2017.
“The Saint John’s Bible is a unique bibliographic project that combines traditional and contemporary illumination and print processes,” says Keith Chevalier, Archivist and Head of Special Collections. “Concurrent to exhibiting and providing access to the sixth volume of The Heritage Edition, the Geisel Library will have the opportunity to bring to light some of the treasures of Special Collections through displays and presentations showcasing our collection of manuscript leaves, early printed books, and the Dr. F. Marc LaForce ’60 collection of Book of Hours facsimiles.”
Programming and events related to the Bible will be held on campus throughout the year, beginning with a lecture by Father Michael Patella, O.S.B., a Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey and a professor of New Testament at the Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary on November 11. The lecture, titled “The Saint John’s Bible: A Postmodern Interpretation of Sacred Scripture?,” explored the artistry on 20 different pages of the Bible and explained the symbolism of each. As Father Michael described, readers are encouraged to interpret the Bible through both visual and textual representations; for example, the image representing the Genealogy of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew includes a menorah, symbolizing the fact that Jesus was born Jewish. In addition, the menorah is pictured with a DNA double-helix to represent genealogy.
Father Michael also noted Jackson’s personal additions into the illustrations, including his depiction of New York City’s Twin Towers on a page in the Gospel of Luke. Jackson was working on that specific page on September 11, 2001.
“The Saint John’s Bible was filled with fascinating art that interpreted each story of the Bible in a creative and abstract way,” said sophomore Candice Bonarrigo. “I am very grateful to Saint Anselm College for giving me the opportunity to see an incredible piece of history.”
The Saint John’s Bible books, cards and gifts are available for purchase through Campus Ministry. Please contact Susan Gabert, Director, at email@example.com or (603) 641-7231 for further information.