I’m having the vapours. I can barely contain my excitement. The dogs, who had been unsure, are now 100% convinced that I’m touched. What has sent me into these transports? The publication of the first volume of the Saint John’s Bible.
[pause for breath]
“The what?”, you ask? Why, it’s only the first bible manuscript to be commissioned in 500 years! In 1995 the monks of St. Johns Abbey, Minnesota, and world-renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson, decided it was high time to revive the tradition of bible manuscripts. The first words (the prologue of John’s Gospel, of course) were laid down in 2000 and Jackson’s team of calligraphers are still at it.
This project is a wonderful marriage of the modern and the traditional. The materials are all hand-crafted—the vellum pages, the bindings, the quill pens, even the inks. But make no mistake, this is no attempt to recreate the past. The calligraphy and artwork, though drawing on tradition, is new and contemporary, and every page was laid out on computer. Also they have chosen to use a contemporary Bible translation, the New Revised Standard Version, which some consider to be the best translation of the bible to date.
In the Middle Ages, monasteries helped preserve knowledge and culture for the sake of the greater community. By commissioning a handwritten Bible, Saint John’s revives a tradition and affirms its commitment to the study of scripture, to the book arts and to educational, artistic and spiritual pursuits.
When complete the Saint John’s Bible will comprise seven volumes, each two feet tall, and although it will live at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University, it will also go on tour to educate and inspire. Prints of the illuminations are available for purchase, and a variety of volume reproductions—from the trade version I am apoplectic about to high-end, full-size facsimiles—will be produced.
At the dawn of the 21st century, Saint John’s Abbey and University seek to ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world by commissioning a work of art that illuminates the Word of God for a new millennium.
I’ve been waiting for this for a long time—and it looks like I’ll be waiting a little longer. The first volume, Gospels and Acts, is set to be released in April, and I’ll be looking at May flowers by the time it graces my mail box. The same goes for the companion book, Illuminating the Word: The Making of the Saint John’s Bible. So I guess the first lesson this book will be teaching me is patience.