Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Saint John's Bible

Yesterday I waxed enthusiastic about the Gutenberg Bible, but as I was reading The New Yorker this morning, I was reminded by a small sidebar ad of the monumental effort to produce the first handwritten illuminated Bible since Gutenberg made such things obsolete, ca. 1450. It is called The Saint John's Bible ( I had seen a documentary about it, I believe on PBS, but it had slipped out of the old melon until today. You can see individual pages at and at the St John's website (to the left is the Gospel of Matthew). So far the Gospels and Acts are available in facsimile reproductions, with the Psalms set to appear in early 2006. I just added one to my wish list!

Apart from the sheer beauty of the calligraphy and illuminations, what makes this a compelling story is how Donald Jackson has gone about creating the work itself. Jackson was Queen Elizabeth's personal scribe, and does the work in his scriptorium in Wales. He uses "eggs, feathers, calfskins, and handground inks along with gold, silver and platinum" (quoting from the introduction), in conjunction with ancient techniques to create a masterpiece of manuscript art. It is called the Saint John's Bible because, when completed, the Bible will reside in the Benedictine monastery of St. John's, in central Minnesota, which commissioned the work. The project reflects the ecumenical and inter-faith commitments of the monastery, incorporating input from religious leaders and artists from a variety of faith traditions.

While Donald Jackson and his team use ancient methods to create the original, it is organized on a computer, digitally photographed and preserved, and made available in public editions and on CD-ROM. This is a glorious mixing of ancient art, monastic vocation (the monasteries preserved much of the ancient world's knowledge in their Medieval scriptoria), and technological innovation. This naturally appeals to me, Philaskolia (i.e., "lover of manscripts"), but I think many creatively-minded Christians will rejoice over this project, and look forward to its completion. Even more information is available at It's worth a look, trust me.


Blogger grant said...

I am glad that there is a return to making things by hand. Not that I think things by hand are purer than the mass produced, but in this case if you consider the meditative aspects of copying and illustrating scripture by hand, I think this is a most worthy venture. I have often thought of making a manuscript of the gospel of Luke just for myself as a meditational aide.

4:42 PM  
Blogger James Brumm said...

I had the wonderful and unexpected opportunity to see some of the pages of the Saint John's Bible in person and in production in Collegeville, MN, last year. It's a marvel.

11:15 PM  
Blogger James Pepper said...

Its only the "first bible in 500 years at Saint Johns", even though they have only been around for 150 years, you didn't think they were the first in 500 years? I could say that my bible is the first in 1000 years, does it make it true? My bible preceded theirs by 5 years, the Dallas Morning News interviewed them in 2001 comparing the two bibles. And I am not the only one. You can find videos on my work with CBS and UMTV and ABC by googling my website "The Pepper Bible". I started a blog but Have not done anything with it as I am new to this stuff. My bible is entirely made by hand, I do not use computers an it has twice as many illuminations in the Gospels than saint Johns has in their entire Bible.

4:34 PM  

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