Contemporary Illuminated Bible to be Showcased at RockhurstSeptember 3, 2013

Rockhurst University students and community members will soon get a rare hands-on look at the first handwritten, fully illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine abbey in half a millennium.

Presented by the Rockhurst Office of Mission and Ministry, “A Year with the Saint John’s Bible” program will center on the display of the seven-volume, 1,150-page Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible commissioned in 1998 by the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Saint John in Collegeville, Minn.

Tim Ternes, director of the Saint John’s Bible Project, will give an overview of the Bible in a presentation scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, in Mabee Theater, located in Sedgwick Hall, with a reception following in Greenlease Library. Those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP for the event by Sept. 6. Registrations will be accepted after that date, as space allows.

Ternes’ talk is part of a month-long public exhibition of the Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible in Greenlease Library on the Rockhurst campus starting Sunday, Sept. 8 and lasting through Sunday, Sept. 29. Ternes said sharing the Bible is part of the reason it was created in the first place.

“The exhibition and public programming work help introduce the project to new audiences and provides opportunities for learning and scholarship,” he said. “The Bible is communal and meant to be shared; the exhibition programs allow that to happen.”

According to Ellen Spake, Ph.D., assistant to the president at Rockhurst, the exhibition is a unique opportunity for the University community to see the Bible, up close.

“His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI called the Saint John’s Bible ‘a great work of art… a work for eternity,’” she said.

The Saint John’s Bible was created over the course of a decade by a team of artists led by Wales-based Donald Jackson, one of the world’s foremost calligraphers and Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Crown Office at the House of Lords in London, England.

The Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible, a series of 299 fine-art reproduction editions of the original Bible, features elegant calligraphy and original full-color illuminations that use modern imagery to illustrate and complement the surrounding sacred text.

“The illuminations are breathtaking. The Saint John’s Bible is truly a Bible for the times,” Spake said. “You will see strands of DNA woven into the ‘Genealogy of Christ,’ and the Twin Towers in New York appear in another. Satellite photos of Ganges River Delta and photos from the Hubble telescope were used in the Creation illumination. Even the sound waves from the monks at Saint John’s Abbey and the chanting of other religious leaders are woven into the Psalms. It will simply take your breath away.”

During the illumination process, those images evoking the present were combined with methods rooted in the past — the quills used for the calligraphy were hand-cut, the pages specially crafted from calfskin vellum, the pigments hand-mixed. The result is a Bible unlike any other, Ternes said.

“Saint John's Abbey and University commissioned The Saint John's Bible to ignite the spiritual imagination of all peoples throughout the world,” Ternes said. “Their goal was to commission a work of art that illuminated the Word of God for a new millennium, in a way that is relevant to the 21st century.”

Copies of the Heritage Edition have been hosted at a number of other universities and other sites around the country. However, Spake said Rockhurst University will be the first school in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area to display the Bible. The exhibit at Rockhurst will also be hands-on, allowing visitors to actually turn the pages of the Bible while on view.

During the month-long exhibition the Bible will be used by the celebrant during the Mass of the Holy Spirit, part of Rockhurst’s second-ever Ignatian Heritage Week. Two of the seven volumes of the Heritage Edition will remain with Rockhurst for the remainder of the academic year and will be on display at the Greenlease Library.

Saint John's Bible from Rockhurst University on Vimeo.

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