By Cullen Trobec
On Oct. 5, St. John’s celebrated the grand opening of the St. John’s Bible Gallery located in the lower level of Alcuin Library. The gallery showcases the recently completed St. John’s Bible, a project nearly 20 years in the making.
The St. John’s Bible is the first entirely handwritten and illuminated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the mid-14th century. Plans for the project began as early as 1995 when world-renowned British calligrapher Donald Jackson spoke to former director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) Eric Hollas, OSB, about creating a fully illuminated handwritten Bible. The project was officially commissioned in 1998, and production lasted from April of 2000 until May of 2011.
One thing that makes the project notable is that all of the materials used during the Bible’s creation are consistent with those that existed during the golden age of scriptural illumination. All pages are made of vellum (treated calfskin), writing was done using hand cut quills and all pigments are naturally derived from
substances such as charcoal, lapis lazuli and vermillion.
“If we wanted this Bible to be around a long time, we had to find materials that have proven themselves,” Tim Ternes said, the director of the Bible project. “We used these ancient materials because they will last.”
Over the 12 years of production, 23 artists including six scribes worked tirelessly to create a Bible that transcended expectations. Chief Scribe Donald Jackson even created an entirely new type of script specifically for the project.
The primary goal of the artists was not to illustrate the events of the Bible, but to create artwork that reminds us that the Bible is a communal book rather than a personal book. The artwork was intentionally done in a way that doesn’t restrict the Word to a specific time period or group of people, but instead welcomes people from all traditions for hundreds of years to come. For example, some pages include artwork that is representative of other religious traditions such as Judaism, Islam and Taoism.
“It’s not a medieval Bible, it’s a Bible that speaks to people today even though it uses traditional methods and materials,” Executive Director of HMML Columba Stewart OSB said. “It’s not just a printed book, it’s a
living expression of community.”
Themes and images from the St. John’s campus such as the Abbey Church and Stella Maris Chapel are visible in many of the pieces of artwork.
“It’s a big deal for the school, and it’s so unique that I think we should really celebrate it,” said CSB sophomore Maren Curley.
Students are highly encouraged to go and see the Bible for themselves in the new gallery, which currently features 28 select pages that combined showcase works from every volume and work from every artist and calligrapher.
“I would definitely recommend going to see it. Even if you’re not religious in any way, it’s so beautiful and impressive that you’ll appreciate it no matter what,” SJU sophomore Connor Smith said.
The St. John’s Bible Gallery is open weekdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays starting in Oct.
FEATURE PHOTO: JILLIAN SCHULZ • [email protected]