Sunday, March 12, 2006

Igniting the Spiritual Imagination

Today I want to briefly illuminate on a spectacular event that has recently unfolded. It’s the first hand-copied Bible in centuries* (since the early 1500s).

When the printing press was invented, the need to hand copy books fell to the wayside. Saint John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota teamed up with British calligrapher Donald Jackson to revive the practice this once “to ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world by commissioning a work of art that illuminates the Word of God for a new millennium.” In commissioning this work, the abbey and university took an extraordinary step in creating both a breathtaking work of art and bringing to the world the majesty of God’s hand-illuminated word.

As a lover of quality books (and as a Roman Catholic) I have been impressed at the incredible effort taken and devotion given as a talented team of artists and calligraphers set out to re-present the Word of God in so magnificent a work.

If you are devoted to books, it’s well worth a look. You can see pages and learn about the effort at the
Saint John’s Bible website. You can also order a copy at the Saint John’s Bible Online Gift Shop. In addition, PBS aired a television program about the making of this new bible, part of which is available on the Saint John’s Bible site.

There will be seven volumes in all of handwritten text and illuminations. When I ordered my copy there was but the Gospels and Acts finished. I see today that The Psalms is available now, too. There is also a book about making the Bible, and you can order prints of some of the illuminations. You can actually
view pages on the site.

One of the facts that impressed me was that the lead artist used red ink bought from a shop in England that had closed its doors hundreds of years ago! They also used gold leaf for some of the illustrations, and it was all produced on lamb-skin sheets of parchment that had to be hand-selected and hand-prepared. Copies for sale were printed on paper known to best display and preserve the work. Still, my copy was only $64.95 (plus tax and shipping)!

Why do I tell you about the Saint John’s Bible? Because it’s a rare tome and it exemplifies all the best of a published work – I wanted to share my excitement.

*Update: 4.09.06
In the first paragraph of this article, I said that this was the first hand-copied Bible in centuries. I believe I read that on a website that talked about the Saint John's Bible, although I haven't found it again yet. Regardless, this isn't the case. It doesn't diminsh from the amazing work and inspiration that went into the Saint John's Bible, but it does rob other similar works their due credit. I don't believe it was intentional, however.

To learn more, read about "The Pepper Bible." There are additional links in that article to other hand-lettered illuminated Bibles.


Unknown said...

I completed my New Testament 5 years before Saint Johns started. They are not the first in 500 years. You can google my Bible at "The Pepper Bible" CBS and ABC have filmed me writing the Bible and there are links there.


Booksville Bookclub said...

Thanks, James, for all the info and the links on your page. It appears that many illustrated Bibles have been undertaken over the years since the 16th century, so I'm glad to correct the record.

Also, thanks for your life's work. If you find a publisher (and I cannot imagine you won't) I'd love to buy a copy. I am collecting copies of Saint John's versions and I would like to add yours in my home also, if it's affordable.

What Saint John's Bible took multiple caligraphers and illustrators to accomplish you have done on your own, an amazing feat. You have received a tremendous gift from God and I thank you for sharing it with the world.


Unknown said...

Thanks Alan: Yes my Bible is an expression of my faith. I am a Christian, and this is a way of life. My Bible is a very effective tool for evangelism because people can look at it and comment about it. They accept that I have faith and that it is the motivator for this work. Those who are interested, we can start to talk about their road to God. I usually encourage people to go back to church and ask questions this time around and go with their friends and family where they can get the support they need in their walk. And that is how I got the blessing from John Paul II, while he knew I am a Protestant and that my Bible is the KJV. Because it doesn't matter what the net is made of, all of us need help bringing in the catch.
Oh I need an agent!
James G. Pepper
Biblical Scribe