The Word

area hospitals join forces to acquire rare, hand-crafted St. John’s Bible

At a time when we can’t be bothered to handwrite a grocery list, let alone a thank-you note, it seems impossible to imagine someone taking on the immense task of handwriting the Bible. Renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson, with a team of brilliant artists, not only wrote the entire Bible in an original calligraphy, but depicted more than 160 illustrations to accompany the scripture. Are you impressed? Because that’s not even half the story. 

The St. John’s Bible, commissioned in 1998 by St. John’s College of Collegeville, Minn., did not have its first words written in it until two years later. To prepare for this enormous project, teams of art historians, theologians, artists, Bible scholars, even botanists were put together in order to ensure the most precise depictions possible from all different perspectives. Consequently, they wanted the images to not only be portrayed accurately, but to be produced authentically by using ancient techniques. Hand-crafted true feather quills for calligraphy, real gold leaf, and 250 calfskins for the 1,150 pages are just a few materials that barely scratch the surface of all what Jackson and his team utilized for the original piece of art.

Calligraphers spent a complete day’s worth of work to perfect two columns of text, and the layout was meticulously composed using computer software. The text is 2,000 years old, but because of the invention of the printing press, the last hand-written Bible was produced in 1452. All others before were Latin, and therefore unreadable to many who came in contact with it. Before the printing press, Bibles were not commonplace. Medieval monks dedicated their lives to copying the Bible in hopes of spreading the word further. To accompany it, monks drew illustrations, which included gold that reflected off the page. Soon these became known as “Illuminated” since the technical definition of “illumination” is the play of light upon gold. To see the gold reflect, you must engage with the art by moving around, making it an interactive work.

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