Illuminating the Word

Saturday was the day that H and I had members-only preview tickets to attend the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts exhibit of the St. John’s Bible. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the St. John’s Bible was commissioned by St. John’s University (College of St. Benedict), following a long-lost Benedictine tradition of handwritten bibles. St. John’s is located in Collegeville, about an hour north of Minneapolis. The chief scribe and artistic director of the project is Donald Jackson, the Queen’s Scribe, who lives in Wales and is considered one of the foremost calligraphers of our time. According to the website for St. John’s:

In the tradition of great medieval Bibles, The Saint John’s Bible will be monumental — two feet tall and three feet wide and more than 1,000 pages bound in seven distinct volumes.

How could I begin to describe what I felt? I’m afraid words fail me. How many ways are there, anyway, to say “exquisite?” The exhibit is set up so that pages from Genesis are the first that you see, you progress through the books and end with the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. I don’t know exactly why it made such a difference, but reading the scriptures again in this form – well, it was almost like reading them for the first time. As much as I appreciate the utilitarian value of my mass-printed study bible, this wasn’t just about reading. This was an experience of sacred dimension that engages the imagination. As I stood in front of the page and read my favorite Psalm, the 91st, I got tears in my eyes. Somehow, the careful formation of every single character and illustration seems a fitting treatment for the holy scriptures. The illustrations are just beyond description – extraordinary in every way. I’ve never seen anything like them. But if you go to the St. John’s Bible web site and click on See & Hear, you’ll get a glimpse of some of them. You can now purchase the Gospels and Acts of the Apostels (as well as reprints of specific illustrations) as a bound volume and I’m going to get one for myself just as soon as I can save up the money to do so. There is also a PBS Special that has aired several times in the Twin Cities area, though I haven’t been able to find a link at the PBS web site to the program.

2 thoughts on “Illuminating the Word

  1. Oh, you are SO fortunate to have seen this, Boyd. I have followed the project for several years now, and I agree with you that the words “exquisite” spring to mind – though of course, i have only ever seen magazine and website images. Thank you for providing URL’s.

    It must have been so enriching to see something as truly beautiful as this. If you come to London again, we must raid the British Library! (Only visually, I hasten to add :-))

  2. This sounds like an interesting experience, Boyd. I am not familiar with St. John’s Bible. I just tried the link, but my browser hung up so I’ll try again later. Have you read The Message? It’s a modern interpretation done by a Presbyterian minister. I borrowed it from the library and decided not to order it.

Comments are closed.