“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
– John 1:14
For the next eight months, the Word is in Bellarmine’s W.L. Lyons Brown Library in the form of a richly illustrated volume of The Gospels & Acts. Measuring 2 feet by 3 feet when fully opened, it is a fine-art reproduction of the sixth volume of The Saint John’s Bible, an illuminated manuscript commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota in 1998 and completed in 2011.
Proposed by the official calligrapher to Queen Elizabeth II, The Saint John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the printing press was invented in the mid-1400s. It was produced by an international team of calligraphers and artists with the guidance of theologians, biblical scholars and art historians.
Hand-cut goose quills and paints ground from minerals and stones including lapis lazuli and vermillion were used to complete the original manuscript on calfskin vellum, and the illustrations were illuminated with silver, copper and 24-karat gold leaf.
Saint John’s University then printed 299 reproductions of the 1,150-page Bible on 100 percent cotton with gold and silver foils applied. Universities and other institutions may purchase the entire seven-volume set or, like Bellarmine, gain temporary access to Volume 6 through a program called A Year with The Saint John’s Bible. Bellarmine has copy No. 118 of 299 of The Gospels & Acts, said Dr. Melanie-Prejean Sullivan, Bellarmine’s director of Campus Ministry.
She first saw The Saint John’s Bible at a conference for campus ministers in Washington, D.C. “One thing that impressed me was the way that different campuses had used the Bible to increase awareness of the Catholic tradition and to further their mission of anchoring students in the liberal arts tradition,” she said.
At Bellarmine, the Bible is displayed in a glass case, and its pages are turned several times per month. It is being used across the curriculum by faculty and staff members who are showing the connections between faith and creativity, arts, science, Scripture, study and life, Dr. Sullivan said. “Knowing how this treasure came to be is a discernment story which inspires students to think about what their own talents are telling them about their futures.”
Dr. Sullivan also conducts private viewings of the Bible with small groups from the university and the community.
While the creation of The Saint John’s Bible employed ancient techniques, its intent is to inspire the readers of today. The text is the New Revised Standard Version translation, and some of the art incorporates very contemporary elements – strands of DNA in the illumination of the “Genealogy of Jesus,” for example, and a view of Earth from space in “To the Ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).
“The imagination is unbounded when you start studying it,” Dr. Sullivan said of the Bible. “It makes you think, ‘What images do I see when I read Scripture?’ I mean, Jesus in blue jeans, sprinkling seeds?” (In the Bible’s illustration of Mark 4:14, “The sower sows the Word,” a denim-wearing Jesus drops gold-flecked seeds that scatter across the words on the facing page.) “I’ll never read that passage again without seeing it that way.”
Carla Carlton | firstname.lastname@example.org