By LINDA M. LINONIS
Why did the com- munity of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., initiate a 12-year project to create a contemporary illuminated Bible using medieval techniques and materials?
“Because we didn’t have to,” said Tim Ternes, director of The Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten and illustrated Bible in more than 500 years. “It didn’t have to be done,” he continued, “but we took a forward-thinking approach to this work of art.”
Ternes said the Bible is a common book but not commonplace. “The Bible is communal. This reminds us that it’s ours,” he said.
Canton Museum of Art will host the exhibition, “Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible," from Dec. 5 through March 2, 2014. Other programs complementing the exhibit also are planned.
The project, commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey and University, features all 73 books of the Old and New Testaments in seven volumes of 1,127 pages with more than 160 artistic renderings. The exhibit in Canton will incude 68 original manuscript pages in 34 displays. Though this Bible has been on tour since 2005, this exhibit has pages from all completed volumes.
Ternes said “the physicality” of the effort will impress viewers. Pages measure 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. It weighs several hundred pounds.
“The idea behind this Bible is to share it,” Ternes said. “People will see things that speak to them.”
The first words in the Saint John’s Bible were penned on Ash Wednesday in 2000, and the last word, Amen, was entered May 9, 2011. Using ancient inks and calligraphy techniques, the actual pages were created by 23 professional scribes, artists and assistants in a scriptorium in Wales.
Information from the museum noted that the pages are vellum (calfskin), and scribes used 19th-century Chinese lamp black ink sticks and hand-cut quills from turkey, swan or goose feathers.
Calligrapher Donald Jackson, senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office at the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, was the artistic director. “I hope some of the emotion that we have collectively manged to put into the Bible will touch the hearts and emotions of those people who look at what we put onto the pages,” Jackson said in a press release.
The exhibit in Canton will include original folios (pages) from all seven of the volumes of the Saint John’s Bible that make up the Old and New Testament — Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Psalms, Prophets, Gospels and Acts and Letters and Revelation. Illuminations accompanying the text include the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Ten Commandments, Vision of Isaiah and Wisdom Women.
“I guarantee viewers will be blown away,” Ternes said of museum visitors.
Complementing the Saint John’s Bible display will be the companion exhibit, “Sacred Voices,” which features contemporary works by artists inspired by Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.