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The written Word

The Catholic Voice

The St. John's Bible, the first illuminated Bible commissioned since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago, was led by the artistic director and illuminator Donald Jackson, above, one fo the world's foremost calligraphers.
Joslyn Art Museum
While the Bible is made using medieval artistic techniques, state-of-the-art computer technology is employed to create and manage page layouts as well as to create digital voice prints that are incorporated into part of the book. Lisa Schulte
The sacred text of Scripture flows elegantly across the calfskin pages of The St. John's Bible, the first handwritten, illuminated Bible since the invention of the printing press nearly 500 years ago.

The beauty of each page, with bright art and calligraphy lettering, brings together modern themes and technology and colorful images.

'Illuminating the Word: The St. John's Bible" is a new Bible for a new millennium. It's currently on exhibit at Omaha's Joslyn Art Museum through Easter Sunday, April 16.

Since 2000, scribes in Wales have been working on the project, which will include 73 books of the Bible, presented in seven volumes of 1,150 pages. The Joslyn exhibit features nearly 100 pages from three of the four finished volumes "“ the Gospels and Acts, Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and Psalms.

Donald Jackson, one of the world's foremost calligraphers and artistic director and illuminator of the project, led the team of theologians and artists from St. John's University and St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., as well as scribes, artists and craftsmen who worked on the project.

Jackson, 68, is Senior Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Crown Office at the House of the Lords in the United Kingdom, responsible for the creation of official state documents. He is an elected fellow and past chairman of the prestigious Society of Scribes and Illuminators and, in 1997, was master of London's 600-year-old Guild of Scriveners.

The St. John's Bible combines the old with the new. Its text was written by hand and all the illuminations were individually designed and painted by hand, using quills and natural handmade inks. However, the Bible was written in the modern English translation and utilizes the latest computer technology to create and manage page layouts. The illumination reflects a multicultural world and humanity's strides in science, technology and space exploration.

Some of the prominent illuminations include the Genealogy of Jesus, the Birth of Christ, the Raising of Lazarus, the Crucifixion, Christ Our Light, the Last Supper, the Road to Emmaus, and Pentecost.

The St. John's Bible was completed as a partnership between artists and calligraphers, Jackson said. They worked together on each page, putting their own style in the work. 'There's some of me in all of them and all of me in some of them," Jackson said.

The St. John's Bible is about feelings. It's about reaching into the souls of those who view it, Jackson said, encouraging viewers to find a personal connection with the text.

'The writing is the soul of this book. The heartbeat of the letter will carry you along," he said.

Although not a particularly religious man, Jackson admitted that through this project, he has gained more trust in the Bible.

'I'm more convinced at the value of the Bible as a text which helps you reach wherever it is you want to reach," he told The Catholic Voice.

Omaha is the second stop on the Bible's nationwide tour. After touring, the St. John's Bible will be permanently displayed at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John's Abbey and University.

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