Two decades ago, work began on the first new fully illuminated Bible — The Saint John’s Bible — to be created in centuries. Each of the roughly 800,000 words of the Holy Scriptures were gracefully written by hand, and artists used their gifts to illuminate those words beautifully.
The Saint John’s Bible is the product of a childhood dream of master calligrapher Donald Jackson of Wales to create a handwritten, illuminated Bible. The Benedictine monks of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., commissioned the project in 1998.
Contained in seven volumes, the 1,150-page Bible has 160 illuminations — colored, gilded pieces of art — woven throughout.
“This is not a picture book,” said Tim Ternes, director of the Bible, which is 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide when opened, in 2011 — the year the Bible was completed. “The illuminations are visual spiritual meditations designed to invite you into the Scriptures.”
People might have seen reproductions of the original Saint John’s Bible proudly on display in local hospitals or churches, said the Rev. Phil Ruge-Jones. Grace Lutheran Church, where he serves, will soon be dedicating its new set that will remind those who encounter it of the beauty and centrality of God’s word in their life together.
“I was surprised to find all seven volumes prominently on display in a waiting room at Markquart Toyota while getting my car serviced,” Ruge-Jones said. “You also may have seen prints of the illuminations framed and adorning the places where you worship. Many churches in our area have included this visual witness to God in their buildings.
“Eau Claire is but one example of the extensive presence that this project enjoys. We have reached a time when scholars have begun to reflect on the contribution that The Saint John’s Bible has made to the life of the world.”
On Saturday, Feb. 16, Ruge-Jone’s church is hosting a free lecture by such a scholar, Jonathan Homrighausen, author of “Illuminating Justice: The Ethical Imagination of The Saint John’s Bible.” He will speak about the “beautiful persuasion” of this particular Bible and how it might inspire people’s ecological imagination, encouraging them to care for God’s creation.