Why did Saint John’s University commission a handwritten Bible? What is the
significance of a handwritten Bible?
At the onset of a new millennium, Saint John’s University
and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey
sought to ignite the spiritual imagination of people throughout the world by commissioning a work
of art that illuminates the world today. This was the first time in 500 years that a Benedictine
Monastery had commissioned a handwritten, illuminated Bible. Its construction will paralleled that of its medieval predecessors, written on vellum, using quills, natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments and gold leaf while incorporating modern themes, images and technology of the 21st century.
What is the history of handwritten Scriptures? Are they still created today?
As far as we know, the last complete handwritten, illuminated Bible was commissioned shortly after
the European development of the printing press at the end of the 15th century. Although Judaism continues the
practice of the handwritten Torah, and Islam does so with the Qu’ran, Western Christianity has
virtually discontinued the practice of handwritten Bibles since the moveable type came into use. It
should be noted that Buddhism and Hinduism also have a calligraphic tradition.
What makes this Bible unique?
The unique aspect of the Bible is that it is a Bible for our time. It is a combination of ancient methods and materials with themes, images and technology of the 21st century and beyond. The Saint John’s Bible
represents humankind’s achievements over the past 500 years. It is a contemporary blending of religious imagery from various Eastern and Western traditions, as befits our modern understanding of the global village. This Bible reflects Saint John’s commitment to Scripture and to the Book Arts, as well as to spiritual, artistic, educational and scholarly programming.
When people see the Bible they are immediately impressed by the sheer physicality of The Saint John’s Bible.
Most have never seen a book this large. Most have never seen such an endless stream of elegant script. Most have seen neither gold-leaf nor pages of vellum to which it is applied. Too many are accustomed to Bibles that feature cramped type on onion-skin paper, and so they never anticipate the spacious pages and the carefully-planned arrangement of text that invites one to linger over phrases, words and even letters. This Bible literally presents the Word of God as something special.
Why Saint John’s Abbey and University?
For fifteen hundred years, Benedictine monasteries have acted as producers and protectors of
books. In keeping with that heritage, Saint John’s has become an international center of the Book
Arts. Saint John’s has well established programs celebrating the history of the book, including the
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML)
, Arca Artium
, and the Rare Books Collection
from all over the world conduct research using the resources at Saint John’s. Its partner in
education, The College of Saint Benedict
, has its own Books Arts Program, in which it works closely
with Graywolf Publishing. The Saint John’s Bible
continues that tradition. The process of creating
the Bible incorporated ancient art forms with modern techniques in a joint celebration of the
traditional arts of bookmaking and modern science and sensibility.
What role does Saint John’s play in the creation of the Bible project?
Saint John’s is not only the patron of the Bible project, but it played a vital role in assembling the team of advisors, faculty, theologians, administrative staff, and artists that collaborated on this almost 15 year project.
Saint John’s Committee on Illumination and Text (CIT)
decided which passages of the Bible were to be illuminated and worked with Donald Jackson, artistic director, on the imagery used to depict these scripture passages, with an eye to interpreting them for our time.
What is the goal of The Saint John’s Bible? Who do you intend to reach, and what message
are you trying to convey?
The goal of The Saint John’s Bible
is to ignite the spiritual imagination of all peoples throughout the world by commissioning a work of art that illuminates the Word of God for a new millennium in a way that is relevant to the 21st century. It is a prophetic witness to the Word of God in our day and beyond, an opportunity for learning and scholarship and a dignified expression of the Benedictine vision: "That in all things God may be glorified.”
Why did Saint John’s University choose Donald Jackson as the calligraphic artist for The
Saint John’s Bible? Why wasn’t an American artist chosen for the Project?
During an interview with Barbara Walters on The Today Show
in 1970, Donald Jackson expressed his
life's dream. When asked about his ultimate ambition, he indicated that one day he would like to write the Bible. Later he described it this way: "The Bible is the calligraphic artist's supreme challenge (our Sistine Chapel), a daunting task." Donald Jackson is considered one of the world’s foremost Western calligraphers and has trained and encouraged many of America’s top calligraphers. He has a long and illustrative relationship with Saint John’s. For more than two decades he has led seminars and workshops hosted by Saint John’s for the internationally recognized Calligraphy Connection. A Member of the Victorian Order, Donald is Senior Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office at the House of Lords. His education included six years of specialization in Calligraphy, Lettering and Bookbinding. Donald. Jackson brought a global perspective to The Saint John’s Bible Project. He has said this project is his “Sistine Chapel,” and a truly historic undertaking.
Where is Donald Jackson’s scriptorium located? Did he work alone or in collaboration with
Donald Jackson’s scriptorium is located in Wales where he spent most of his time working on The Saint John’s Bible
. He led a team of calligraphers writing and illuminating the Bible. The team was made up of skilled scribes, some who work at the scriptorium and others who take pages of vellum back to their own studios. Throughout the production of the book, Mr. Jackson came to Saint John’s on a regular basis. There he consulted with the Committee on Illumination and Text, met with friends of the project and spent time researching on the Saint John’s campus.
Why was New Revised Standard Version of the Bible of the Bible chosen?
The translation of the Bible known as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was chosen for The Saint John’s Bible
for a number of reasons. Saint John’s wanted a translation as widely used and accepted as possible, and the NRSV’s predecessor, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, had the distinction of being officially authorized for use by most major Christian churches world-wide: Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Also, NRSV is a modern English translation with a strong literal tradition. It employs gender-inclusive language for references to men and women, usually done in a non-obtrusive manner.
When was the Bible completed? What will be its dimensions?
Gospels and Acts
was the first volume of The Saint John’s Bible
to be written, and it was completed in May 2002.
was completed in August 2003 and the Book of Psalms
was completed in April 2004, Prophets
was completed in April 2005, and Wisdom Books
was completed in July of 2006. Historical Books
completed in March, 2010, and Letters and Revelation
was completed in May of 2011. Binding into the seven volumes will not take place for several years thus allowing wide-spread exhibition of the pages to the public. The Bible in seven volumes will be large for liturgical and exhibition purposes ( each page measures 15 ¾” wide by 23 ½” tall making the book almost three-feet wide when opened)
How is The Saint John’s Bible being used?
The Saint John’s Bible
The Saint John’s Bible is used by Saint John’s Abbey and University for liturgical purposes, as the book from which Scripture is proclaimed during important Masses and other celebrations. In addition, the Bible is a source for religious, artistic, educational and scholarly programming and exhibitions. The making of the Bible was documented, using the latest in technology, for closer study of art, creativity, and the spiritual life, including a better understanding of new traditions in bookmaking and calligraphy. Saint John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota is the home of The Saint John’s Bible.
Original pages as well as fine art reproductions of the Bible are sent out on exhibition all over the country and internationally.
What other religious traditions have played a role in the formation of The Saint John’s
Episcopalian, Protestant and Jewish advisors have helped to form the vision of The Saint John’s Bible
serving as consultants and as members of committees dedicated to assisting Donald Jackson in the
creation of The Saint John’s Bible
Does the impact of this project justify the tremendous amount of time, energy and money
that could potentially be spent in other beneficial ways?
The Saint John’s Bible
was funded through the private donations of approximately 1,500 individuals, groups, and corporations. It was not financed with University money. In addition, this project exemplified Saint John’s commitment to Scripture and the Book Arts as well as spiritual, artistic, educational and scholarly programming. Through its spirit, its art and through the programs it inspires, The Saint John’s Bible
has the potential to have a lasting impact upon the University and Abbey, upon their broader community and, indeed, upon the entire world.
Will this book be available for sale in some form?
As part of the mission to make The Saint John’s Bible
available to everyone, the University currently offers the Bible for sale in several forms: a limited edition, full-size fine art reproduction known as the Heritage Edition
is now available and is being shared throughout the world. Contact Jim Triggs for information on the Heritage Edition at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 320-363-3209. Smaller-scale trade reproductions
of each volume and three books describing the art of the Bible are available. Illuminating the Word
, a book providing an in-depth look at the making of The saint John’s Bible along with fine art prints, inspirational books, cards and other items are all currently available. Ordering and pricing information may be obtained from Liturgical Press
How are people staying in touch with the creation of the Bible?
Access to The Saint John’s Bible
is available on the Internet. Those interested in learning more about
The Saint John’s Bible
, about the project as a whole and its programming, and about how a person can
become involved in the project, can learn more by visiting The Saint John’s Bible
web site at www.saintjohnsbible.org
or by e-mailing The Saint John’s Bible
. Tours and
presentation inquiries may be directed to Tim Ternes at 320-363-3351 or Linda Orzechowski at 32-363-3514 or by e-mail at email@example.com
Could this be considered an antiquated exercise that does not address the needs of
In true Benedictine fashion, The Saint John’s Bible
honors tradition while keeping abreast of the present and keeping an eye on the future. Using ancient techniques and modern sensibilities and technologies, the art of The Saint John’s Bible
offers a scriptural understanding of modern themes. This combination offers Saint John’s an opportunity for a lasting legacy. As Eric Hollas OSB, a monk of Saint John’s Abbey and Associate Director of Arts and Culture at Saint John’s University said when asked about the significance of The Saint John’s Bible
: “It’s the one thing we’ll probably be remembered for 500 years from now. The buildings will go. Most of the buildings that all of us see today are going to be gone 500 years from now. And oddly enough, this one piece of human artistic achievement, [this Saint John’s Bible] will probably still be here . . .”
What effect can one handwritten Bible Have? Why haven’t you chosen to do something
more contemporary, such as publishing this Bible on the World Wide Web?
Saint John’s is inspiring people of all cultures and creeds with the spirit and beauty of this historic undertaking. Saint John’s University plans to reach an even larger audience through exhibition tours of the Bible to museums and libraries worldwide. One of the strengths of this project is its connection to the past and to the future. Contemporary aspects include its reflections of science, technology and space; its multicultural and interreligious imagery; and its depiction of women. Advanced technologies have also been used to create a digital template of the Bible which allows the project to be shared on an even wider scale.
How can I support this project?
As the project continues to reach out to the community at large, we invite you to participate in
Saint John’s Bible
by sponsoring a part of the Bible and attending an exhibition or event. All
benefactors will receive The Saint John’s Bible
newsletter along with announcements and invitations to
various events and activities associated with the project. Visit www.saintjohnsbible.org
information or call 1-800-635-7303 and ask for JoAnn in Institutional Advancement.