Ecclesiastesfrontispiece web
Ecclesiastes Frontispiece (Ecclesiastes 1:1 – 2:11), Donald Jackson (artist, scribe), Copyright 2006, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Illuminating the Word: The St. John’s Bible

Oct 11, 2020 - Jan 10, 2021

Organized by: Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota

Illuminating the Word: The St. John’s Bible is dedicated to a single work of art: The St. John’s Bible, a contemporary masterpiece of Medieval craftsmanship. In 1996, the community of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, began planning and working on The Saint John’s Bible – the first handwritten, illuminated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in five hundred years. The actual pages were created by a team of twenty-three professional scribes, artists, and assistants in a scriptorium in Wales, under the artistic direction of renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson. This extraordinary presentation of one of the world’s great religious texts was conceived as an expression of faith relevant to the modern world. It is a visual record of a new generation’s perception and artistic interpretation of an age-old historical and literary document. Handwritten on vellum using hand-cut quills, ancient inks, natural pigments, and 24-karat gold, silver, and platinum, but following a computer-devised layout, this singular undertaking combines a centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship with new technologies.

In the Middle Ages, monumental Bibles were made for daily use in monastic communities, and carefully preserved for future generations. The Saint John’s Bible is the modern representative of that great tradition, and it aspires to be ecumenical as well—to unite humankind, not further divide it. The incorporation of motifs from several religious traditions, including Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, as well as Native American, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cultures, imbues The Saint John’s Bible with a multicultural resonance for people of all faiths and backgrounds. It the first handwritten Bible that interprets and illustrates scripture from a contemporary perspective. In addition to biblical stories and figures, the illustrations include references to the flora and fauna, like the butterflies that are native to central Minnesota where St. John’s is located, contemporary architecture, such as the buildings of St. John’s campus, and recent events, like the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible presents the story of the book’s creation, exploring the relationship between faith, art, and the written word. The exhibition features more than thirty original unbound folios, including illustrations for the scriptural accounts of Creation, Esther, the Genealogy of Christ, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Alongside the folios, the exhibition presents a selection of tools, materials, and sketches used in the project. A small number of rare books and manuscripts provide a historical context for the manuscript tradition and serve as a testament to the durability of the traditional methods and materials used in the project.