University Purchases Rare Hand-Written, Illuminated Bible

Friday, November 18, 2011

In support of their commitment to the identity of Saint Joseph’s University, the Office of Mission and the Library have joined together to purchase the Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible, the first hand-written and illuminated bible to be commissioned in more than 500 years. The University will be the sole institution in the Philadelphia area to own this significant resource.

“What is exciting about it is not that it is the first hand-written bible in 500 years, but instead that it involves all religions,” says Evelyn Minick, Library director. “Since we have this ecumenical effort at the University, like the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, we had to have it.  We just felt like it was so central to our mission.”

The Bible, which was produced by world-renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson, is the first of its kind.  Besides using iconography of many different religions, the Bible blends in modern images throughout, making it relevant to the world today.

“There are images from the Hubble Spacecraft and of the AIDS virus, so it has a lot of modern connotations as well,” says Minick. “The idea is that you read and you look at the images, and they are the basis for discussion and dialogue.”

The production of the Saint John’s Bible began 10 years ago, when Jackson proposed the idea of producing a hand-written Bible to a group of Benedictine monks at the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.  Interested in learning through the visual arts, the monks sponsored the seven-volume Bible.  The Heritage Edition purchased by SJU is a high quality printing of this original.

Recently, Minick, Dr. Springs Steele, Vice President for Mission and Identity, and Dennis McNally, S.J., chair and professor of fine arts, traveled to the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s University to participate in a program outlining how to utilize the Bible as a resource in the classroom, in liturgical settings, and in personal devotion.

“We will be able to use it to enhance the practice of lectio divina, or 'spiritual reading' of the biblical text,” said Steele. “Reflection on a passage leads to reflection on the accompanying illuminated image, enhancing one's appreciation of the spiritual message of the text. It also will be a wonderful resource for scholarship and teaching in religion, history, literature and art.”

On Nov. 29 at 3:30 p.m., the Bible will be unveiled to the University community during an event in Campus Commons.  Along with the unveiling, the event will also feature the BBC documentary on Jackson’s 10-year process.

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