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The Saint John’s Bible – A Historic Achievement
A replica of the Gospels and Acts from the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned in 500 years, will be on view following a public lecture on April 16, 2009.

The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago. The project, begun in 1995, took ten years to complete. The manuscript, a museum piece, is on display at Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota, however a replica of the Gospels and Acts will be on display at the John M. Kelley Library, St. Michael's College, University of Toronto. Fr. Michael Patella of Saint John’s Seminary Collegeville Minnesota will give a free public lecture presented by Imago on April 16, 2009, titled: “The Saint John’s Bible: Encountering God in Word and Image at Alumni Hall, St. Michael’s College.” The public will have an opportunity to view pages of the replica after the lecture.

Resurrection, Donald Jackson. Copyright 2002, The Saint John's Bible and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Order of St. Benedict Collegeville Minnesota USA.

The Saint John’s Bible has been the subject of a documentary on BBC Television and has drawn the attention of media throughout North America and Europe.   The Artistic Director of the project, Donald Jackson is one of the world’s leading calligraphers.

Crafted in the spirit of the great medieval Bibles, yet shaped by a contemporary artistic sensibility. The Saint John’s Bible is monumental — two feet tall and three feet wide and nearly 1,100 pages bound in seven distinct volumes.  

The earliest surviving example of a monumental Bible in western Europe was made by the Benedictines of Wearmouth and Jarrow in Northumberland at the start of the eighth century. They wrote it in three copies, no less, and they sent one to Italy as a present for the Pope in 716.

One of the last such enormous manuscript Bibles was commissioned by the Benedictines of San Vito in Pisa in October 1168. The cost of making it was met by a fund-raising campaign organized by the priest Gerardus. He recorded the names of more than 60 people who contributed to the vast expenses of purchasing enough parchment and of employing a scribe and several illuminators for the huge project. Local people contributed sums ranging from three pence, to 25 shillings to 32 shilling. Most of the donors were laity, including a baker and two fishermen. The scribe whom the monks commissioned to write their Bible was a professional, Alberto of Volterra, brought in from abroad... The manuscript itself was completed, paid for, and it still survives.

Values for this project

The Saint John's Bible, consistent with the educational mission, values and vision of Saint John's University, is a spiritual, educational and artistic endeavour and a significant contribution to the new millennium. The Saint John's Bible is guided by the following vision and values:

Ignite Imagination – With the same dynamic relationship that existed between medieval Benedictine houses and the scribes whose talents they engaged, Saint John's Abbey and University and calligrapher Donald Jackson, in collaboration with many from the wider community, will produce a Bible, a work of art that will ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world.

Glorify God's Word – A biblical illumination takes the Word of God and glorifies it by transforming the Word into a complementary art form employing illustration, color and design. The Saint John's Bible is meant to be a prophetic witness to the glory of the Word of God and to humankind's God-given dignity.

Revive Tradition – In the Middle Ages, monasteries were leaven in both church and society. They were centers of culture and learning which kept the tradition of scriptural reading alive for the whole world. They helped preserve knowledge and culture for the sake of the larger human family.

In commissioning a handwritten, illuminated Bible, Saint John's revives a tradition that has been nearly absent from the Christian world since the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. The Saint John's Bible affirms this community's commitment to the study of Scripture, to the book arts and to educational, artistic, spiritual and scholarly pursuits.

Discover History – Scholars have speculated about the processes and challenges involved in creating a great manuscript. The Saint John's Bible will allow art and cultural historians the opportunity to experiment in historical discovery, to explore a process that was once a core activity of human civilization.

Foster the Arts – The Saint John's Bible with its spiritual themes and art will reflect the cultural context both of Saint John's and contemporary society. During the time that it will take to create the piece, Saint John's intends for it to be a source of artistic vitality both inside and outside the Saint John's community.

Give Voice – The Saint John's Bible seeks to give voice and expression to those who are now unprivileged. By involving many people, The Saint John's Bible will be linked to other commentaries, and other images, other interpretations and understandings. Inviting various groups to contribute to The Saint John's Bible extends the arms of churches to the marginalized in the true spirit of Christianity.

Imago’s free public lecture will take place on Thursday April 16th at 7:30 p.m. It will be held at Alumni Hall, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, 121 St. Joseph (between Bay St. and Queen’s Park Circle). For more information visit the websites:;; E-mail:

Originally published on the website of St. John’s College, March 2009. Updated, April 2009.




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