The Five-Hundred-Year Wait Is Over!
by Ron Higdon
Saint John’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastic community in central Minnesota, and Saint John’s University, founded by the Abbey in 1857, jointly sponsored The Saint John’s Bible, the only handwritten and illuminated Bible since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago. It is not a new translation (the New Revised Standard Version is used) but a totally new approach to presenting the Scriptures.
The study guide to this extraordinary Bible is titled Seeing the Word and is based on a method of study that involves listening, meditating, and praying the Scriptures. It comes from the practice of visio divina (or lectio divina) that was developed by the Benedictines in the sixth century. It is a way of engaging all the senses as one reads the Bible. It stresses pondering the text, taking the words into one’s mind and heart, and praying what has been read. This method has often been called “listening with the ear of the heart.”
This new Bible has been made entirely by hand in a scriptorium in rural Wales by a team of scribes and artists. The art is not termed illustrations but “illuminations.” Sister Wendy Beckett, known to many through the excellent 1997 PBS series “Story of Painting,” gives this explanation:
In The Saint John’s Bible the art, plentiful and beautiful, is not there as decoration or even as illustration: it is there to illuminate, to light up Holy Scriptures from within. It is sacred art, focused intently on Sacred Revelation. (What is asked of us) is that we open our minds and hearts and allow the Word of God, written, drawn, and painted, to transform us.
The Art of The Saint John’s Bible is a reader’s guide by Susan Sink that discusses all the artwork connected with each biblical book and answers questions like: Why that image? Why those colors? How did they arrive at the decision? Sink writes this in the introduction:
The Bible is intentionally multicultural and contemporary, with its imagery drawing on various traditions and aesthetics from both the ancient and modern world. The images expand our visual vocabulary and invite us to embrace new symbols and contemplate new images in the context of the revelation of the Bible.
Accompanying the Bible there is also a Program Manual (including a DVD) that provides everything needed for personal or group study. Thanks to the generosity of the Lydia Sunday School Class, the Saint John’s Bible, the reader’s guide by Susan Sink, and the Program Manual are now in the library at Broadway Baptist Church. As of this writing, the only other copy in Louisville is at Bellarmine University. (More information about the Bible is available on the website: saintjohnsbible.org.)
This Bible is like no other I have ever seen and the experience of reading (and seeing) it is like no other Bible-reading experience. I highly recommend that you give it a look – a long, contemplative look.
Lydia Class - St. John’s Bible
Dr. Ron Higdon recently reviewed The St. John’s Bible here in a scholarly and erudite manner. We are grateful for his time devoted to this endeavor. A global effort was made to produce this first handwritten complete bible in seven volumes since the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press system in the 1450’s. The project was begun by Donald Jackson, long time scribe to Queen Elizabeth II. He led a team of scribes in Wales. Quoting the fly leaf of the Psalms volume: “Donald Jackson spent seven years collaborating with artist-calligraphers, illustrators, scholars, and the monks at St. John’s Abbey (the largest abbey in the western world here in Minnesota). Using eggs, feathers, calfskins and hand-ground inks along with gold, silver, and platinum this St. John’s Bible employs ancient techniques to create a contemporary masterpiece intended to put us in communication with the infinite.”
Last year representation from the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond presented a lecture and slide show in our chapel to acquaint us with the St. John’s Bible. Our Sunday School Class – Lydia – Susan Hodapp, teacher, was impressed. We wanted to order a set costing over $500 from our class treasury as a gift for Broadway Baptist Church. At this time we are familiarizing class members with all seven volumes of the set. It is not a new translation. It is in the New Revised Standard Version. In the future all seven volumes will be presented to the church. Before it resides permanently in our church we hope that all members will appreciate this valuable resource and keep the set intact and well preserved for generations to come.
~Carolyn Kays, Class President