The Saint John's Bible July 2009, Vol. 1, Issue 5Forward to a Friend
It's been a lovely, lush summer in Collegeville. Steady rain and warm nights have kept flowers in bloom and the grass a rich carpet of green. The Saint John's Bible staff has been busy preparing for the arrival of the pages from the sixth volume, Historical Books. The first two hundred pages will be escorted back from Wales shortly. When they arrive, they will be allowed time to rest and then the viewing will begin. In the next few months we will provide many more details and even some sneak peeks in the newsletter and on the website. Be sure to check back often!

Who is the CIT?
by Amy L. Stubblefield

Imagine a time you collaborated with one other person on a creative endeavor. No doubt, there were lively discussions, cooperative decisions and even some disagreements. Combining even two different perspectives into one piece often proves to be a major challenge and can create differences of opinion.

Now, imagine trying to create a multi-million dollar work of art, commissioned by a monastery located across an ocean, overseen by a strong-willed and bright committee of monks, scholars, theologians and artists. Or, imagine being a member of that committee, working to write one concise report, and hoping it will translate across artistic (and geographical) boundaries. These are the challenges that everyone involved in creating The Saint John's Bible have been facing since work began nearly ten years ago.

While The Saint John's Bible is, on the surface, an impressive work of meticulous craftsmanship—handwritten, gilded, and illuminated using the finest materials—it also strives to be theologically sound, serve an ecumenical tradition and bring contemporary interpretations to an ancient text. Achieving such an in-depth theological and artistic understanding of the Bible would be too ambitious for a single artist. Thus, early in the development of the Bible, Saint John’s formed the Committee on Illumination and Text (CIT) whose charge, according to Chair Fr. Michael Patella, is "the theological oversight of the Bible project."

Committee on Illumination and Text
Members of the CIT: Front row: Irene Nowell, OSB, Ellen Joyce ( past member) Susan Wood, SCL, Columba Stewart, OSB (past member). Back Row: Johanna Becker, OSB, Michael Patella, OSB (Chair), Nathanael Hauser, OSB, Alan Reed, OSB Not pictured: David Paul Lange, OSB and Simon-Hoa Phan, OSB.

To maintain the theological integrity of The Saint John's Bible, the CIT crafted "briefs" for each passage that was selected to be illuminated. The briefs detail scriptural cross-references, exegetical [theological] commentary and references to related passages. In addition to the key theological and scriptural information, the briefs also outline the size of every illumination and which text should be given "special treatment"–a decorative way to highlight a specific important passage.

The briefs were completed years ago but are still an important reference, particularly when sketches are sent from the scriptorium to be reviewed. The CIT meets several times a year and spends a considerable amount of this time reviewing and analyzing the preliminary drafts of the illuminations. "We go through the images, reading from the (illuminated) passage and the original brief," Patella said. "This usually starts the conversation." From there, the CIT provides Donald and his artistic team important feedback, but not artistic instruction. "We never [say] 'It must look like this.' When we get the image, we see if it all adds up or if there is a problem. It's very collaborative," Patella said. "One of our favorite phrases is 'We like where this is going.'" After sending feedback to Donald, more drafts of the illumination are sent, sometimes for many months, until there seems to be mutual agreement that the time has come to place the ink on the vellum and make it permanent.

To fit myriads of historical, cultural and biblical cross-references—as well as multiple different opinions—into one brief may sound like a difficult task. And to fit the ideas contained in a twelve-page brief into a single page of artwork? Well, that could be nearly impossible. Patella insists, however daunting the task may appear, that the CIT and the artists are always striving to work in cooperation with one another and solutions to the most complicated questions are often found through conversation and free association. In those early meetings, "people might say what (a passage) reminded them of," Br. Alan Reed, a member of the CIT, explains. "I might say 'I see a visual pattern evolving.'" Reed is a Benedictine monk, but insists that his primary role on the committee was that of an artist—and his abstract thinking was just one of the components necessary to create a collaborative effort like The Saint John's Bible.

Perhaps, then, the CIT's most important role is that of facilitator who suggests methods for striking delicate artistic balances—between traditional and contemporary interpretation, as well as between theological necessity and creative freedom. All this while ensuring, as Patella states, "the artwork produced is theologically on target with the broad Christian tradition, and is theologically sound."

The next few months should be exciting ones for the CIT, as the first pages of the completed sixth volume, Historical Books, will be arriving from Wales. There is much anticipation regarding these new pages, the first in nearly three years, and as one might expect, a great appreciation knowing the considerable amount of effort and deliberation that has gone into every brush stroke.

Colleagues of Calligraphy Conference
Held in June—highlighted
The Saint John's Bible

This year marked the 29th annual Calligraphy Connection, an international conference of lettering artists and a tradition which began at Saint John's Abbey and University. The conference was sponsored by the Colleagues of Calligraphy —a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, with membership open to anyone with a love of lettering and related arts.

The Calligraphy Connection drew over 300 visitors to Saint John's campus representing 37 states and 9 countries. Over the seven-day conference, 22 faculty members presented classes ranging from Celtic Hybrid Script to Lettering on Canvas.

A highlight of the conference was the Sunday night presentation in which a 20 minute video by Donald Jackson, artistic director of The Saint John's Bible project, was presented to the Colleagues. Donald shared his experiences in working on The Saint John's Bible —his challenges as well as his triumphs.

The evening continued with a panel discussion involving the three American artists who have contributed to The Saint John's Bible: Suzanne Moore, Thomas Ingmire and Diane von Arx. The discussion was facilitated by Christopher Calderhead, calligraphy teacher and author of the Illuminating the Word: The Making of The Saint John’s Bible. The artists expressed their ideas on what it meant to be involved in such an inimitable project. They talked about the collaborative interpretation process, the technical challenges of working on vellum and how the project has helped them to grow in their craft.

This is the fifth time the Calligraphy Connection has convened on Saint John's campus since the first conference in 1981. "We've been at 17 colleges, and I can say without any fear of contradiction that Saint John's University is the place to come," conference founder Jo White said, citing the Saint John's "history and sense of place" as two reasons the connection belongs here. The seclusion and serenity of Saint John"s campus makes it the perfect place to focus on the careful art of calligraphy.

The Colleagues were also able to view the exhibition Gospels and Acts: The Saint John's Bible at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), which serves as the permanent home of The Saint John's Bible. This exhibition includes over 30 original pages from The Saint John's Bible which have not been on exhibition at Saint John's in over five years. HMML also hosted special tours, and visitors were granted access not open to the general public, including an up-close, uncovered look at the Bible folios.

For more information about the Colleagues of Calligraphy, visit their website at:

  In This Issue

• Who is the CIT?

• Colleagues of Calligraphy
  Conference held in June

• Upcoming Exhibitions & Events

See the Bible

Print Exhibits

June 8 – July 24, 2009
Martin de Porres Center
Columbus, Ohio

August 17 – September 30, 2009
Memphis Theological Seminary
Memphis, Tennessee

Find a gallery near you >

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Images from Colleagues
of Calligraphy Conference

Calligraphy Conference
Colleagues of Calligraphy, St. Paul, MN, 2009

Calligraphy Conference
Colleagues of Calligraphy, St. Paul, MN, 2009

Contact:The Saint John's Bible, Liturgical Press, Saint John's Abbey, PO Box 7500, Collegeville, MN 56321
Phone: 1.800.654.0476 or 320.363.2213

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