Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Saint John's Bible - illuminating dark times

The peaks of contemporary culture are reached when new technologies and traditional skills complement each other. Recorded music is one example, with digital technology complementing traditional performing skills. Another inspirational example is the Saint John's Bible which is currently being created at Saint John's University in central Minnesota and a scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales.

The Saint John's Bible is being handwritten using traditional calligraphy skills by artistic director Donald Jackson and a team of skilled scribes in Wales. The finished Bible will be two feet tall, three feet wide, and will comprise nearly 1,100 pages in seven volumes, with 160 illuminations. It is being written on calfskin vellum with goose and swan quills, using natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments and gold and silver leaf. The Bible should be completed in July 2007 after more than five years work, and here is one of the wonderful illuminations.


Supporting the traditional calligraphy skills is state-of-the-art technology. While each letter is being rendered by hand, The Saint John's Bible uses state-of-the-art computer technology to create and manage page layouts. A computer is used to size text and define line breaks. These pages are laid out in full size spreads with sketches in position. Artists use these layouts to guide their work. Saint John’s is working with ColorMax in Paynesville, Minnesota, to preserve the images of The Saint John’s Bible digitally and make high-quality reproduction possible in the centuries to come. The first step in the reproduction process is digital photography to capture the image. Their digital camera records one millimeter at a time. It takes 28 minutes to photograph a single, nearly 16" by 25", page. Plans call for providing high-quality reproductions of illuminations and facsimile editions of the Bible.

Saint John's was founded by Benedictine monks almost 150 years ago, and is now one of the leading Catholic universities in America. In the Middle Ages, monasteries helped preserve knowledge and culture for the sake of the greater community. By commissioning a handwritten Bible, Saint John’s revives a tradition and affirms a commitment to religion, the arts and education. In the present climate of religous conflict let's revel in this extraordinary and uplifting story, and let's feast our eyes on the superb illuminations.

Image credits from Saint John's Bible web site: Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to L'Orgue Mystique' - the images

1 comment:

James Pepper said...

Would you be interested in My Bible, which I have been making since 1987? I am James G. Pepper and if you google "The Pepper Bible" you will find my page with linsk to CBS and ABC and the United Methodiit Church videos on my work. I have done what they have done, but I did it all by myself in Dallas and I have more illumiantions in my set of Gospels than they have in their entire bible! And Saint Johns has known about my work ever since the Dallas Morning News interviewed them comparing the two bibles in 2001.

James