Gonzaga hopes to acquire a fine-art reproduction of the new handwritten and illuminated Saint John’s Bible – the first such Bible created in 500 years, since the origins of the printing press.
The Benedictine monks of Saint John’s University of Minnesota commissioned this Bible. They turned to Donald Jackson, official calligrapher to the queen of England, and his team of artists and scholars to create the seven volumes. Work on the Saint John’s Bible began 13 years ago; the final volume was completed in May. Pages of the handmade original are of calfskin vellum, while scribes used hand-cut goose quills and lamp-black ink from 19th century Chinese ink sticks.
Alumnus Jim Triggs (’81) is director of the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program, which has overseen reproduction of 360 Heritage Editions of the Bible. Triggs says his biggest, and most welcome, surprise has been the reaction of those viewing the Bible for the first time.
“The Saint John’s Bible is one of those ‘you have to see it to believe it’ encounters in life,” Triggs said. “The real impact is seeing the illuminated manuscript, the calligraphy and the imagery – live and in living color. Some of the pages have brought tears to people’s eyes. Others, including some of the creative corrections, make people laugh. The Bible offers all sorts of emotions and they are all on display.”
The illuminations go beyond traditional biblical depictions, coming alive with images of modernity. Strands of DNA figure into the “Genealogy of Christ”; depictions of the Twin Towers accompany “Luke’s Parables,” while satellite images of Ganges River Delta and Hubble telescope images are used in “Creation.”
Triggs has said that one of the delights of the Bible is its ability to compel its readers to slow down and to appreciate the hand-done work.
One of Triggs’s favorite illuminations is “Wisdom Woman” by Donald Jackson, part of the Wisdom Books volume. “The illumination is based on a photo of an older Middle Eastern woman that Donald saved for many years,” Triggs said. “While our culture says beauty is a 20-year-old, this illumination says real beauty is wisdom, and wisdom is earned with age, experience and life. It is a stunning, multi-layered illumination featuring gold, silver and platinum.”
Pentateuch, the first volume of the Saint John’s Bible, is currently on display in Gonzaga’s University Chapel.