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Inception and Creation

From childhood, Donald Jackson had dreamed of creating a hand-written, illuminated Bible. At a conference at St. John's Abbey in the 1990s, observing the monks holding aloft the Book of the Gospels for Sunday Mass, he had an epiphany; he was to fulfill his childhood dream. In 1995, Jackson communicated that ambition to Eric Hollas, OSB, a Benedictine monk at Saint John's Abbey and then-director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. Father Eric brought Jackson's proposal – to create an illuminated Bible, hand written by scribes for the first time in 500 years – to the monks, and they embraced Jackson's dream. In Wales, at Jackson's scriptorium, and in Collegeville, Minnesota, among a community of monks living according to the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict, the dream of a masterpiece in art and biblical scholarship took shape – to create a Bible that would capture the beauty and tradition of centuries of liturgy and carry it into the future.

Before one page was written and quill put to vellum, critical decisions had to be made concerning which translation to use, which Biblical passages to illustrate, how to represent the people, places and concepts described in those passages, and how to allocate space on the page to accommodate them. A committee of artists, medievalists, theologians, biblical scholars and art historians was formed at Saint John's. Called the Committee on Illumination and Text, they discussed each of the volumes before they were written and illuminated. Ancient techniques of calligraphy and illumination and an ecumenical approach to the Bible rooted in Benedictine spirituality were brought to bear by the Committee on every textual and artistic decision. The result is a living document and a monumental achievement.

Note: For more information on the St John's Bible, see the Library of Congress exhibit "Illuminating the Word."

The Saint John's Bible uses the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation of the Bible. This translation was chosen because it is theologically sound and because its predecessor, the Revised Standard Version, is officially authorized for use by most Christian Churches: Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. To keep the weight of each volume to an average of 35 pounds, the St. John's Bible is divided into seven volumes. This grouping of Biblical books has also produced interesting artistic results; while images and motifs repeat across volumes, each collection of Biblical books takes on its own character. We can approach each collection and discover its particular character and place in the grand story of salvation.

Representing the Divine

Several approaches are taken to representing the divine in the pages of The Saint John's Bible. Reading the Gospels, you will see the images of Jesus range from representational to abstract. In Prophets, the rainbow, that sign of God's enduring promise to Noah, is used to show the presence of God. Gold leaf is used throughout, from Creation to Apocalypse, to direct the reader to the presence of the divine. Throughout The Saint John's Bible, you'll see the signs of our times. Strands of DNA are woven into the illumination of the "Genealogy of Christ." The Twin Towers in New York appear in the illumination of Luke's parables. Satellite photos of the Ganges River Delta and photos from the Hubble telescope were used to depict Creation. In Acts, "To the Ends of the Earth" includes the first vision of earth as seen from space in a hand-written Bible.

Text adapted from the Saint John's Bible website, http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/.