New York News

Edition of Saint John’s Bible Igniting Faith at Siena College

By Emily Benson

An illustration from The Saint John’s Bible is is seen Aug. 11 at Sienna College in Loudonville, N.Y. (CNS photo/Emily Benson, The Evangelist)

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) — On Catechetical Sunday, Catholics are called to reflect on how they hand on the faith to others and bear witness to the Gospel.

Siena College in Loudonville is working to ignite the faith of students, faculty and others in the Albany Diocese with an exhibit of The Saint John’s Bible.

The work is the first handwritten and illustrated Bible of its scale created since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.

A few months ago, the Catholic college became one of the proud owners of a full-color reproduction of this Bible. It is on display in the school’s library in an exhibit titled, “Illuminating the Imagination: Art and Word at Siena College.”

“The sacred word nurtures and feeds our faith as Catholics,” said Siena’s mission director, Franciscan Father Mark Reamer, who helped facilitate bringing The Saint John’s Bible to the college. Reading it, he said, is “another way to enhance and nurture one’s faith.”

The Saint John’s Bible organizes the 73 books of the sacred Scriptures into seven volumes: the Pentateuch, historical books, psalms, wisdom books, prophets, Gospels and Acts, and letters and Revelation.

Each volume contains colorful, intricate illustrations that correspond with the surrounding text. Some illustrations take up entire pages, while other pages include brightly-colored calligraphy to emphasize certain quotes.

A number of the images incorporate modern elements: One page shows strands of DNA and viruses; on another, the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center as they stood before 9/11 can be seen in the background.

The artistic director and inspiration behind The Saint John’s Bible is Donald Jackson, a British calligrapher and senior scribe to the Queen of England. In 1995, Jackson approached Benedictine Father Eric Hollas, who is deputy to the president for advancement at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, about his dream of handwriting a Bible.

Two years later, the university and the Benedictine monastery of St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota jointly commissioned the project.

Jackson was joined by six calligraphers and six artists. Together, by hand, the group wrote all 1,150 pages and created more than 160 major illustrations. Jackson drew the first words – “In the beginning” – on Ash Wednesday in 2000; a Jewish scribe drew the Hebrew script.

The project was completed in 2011, with only 299 replicas of The Saint John’s Bible created. Called heritage editions, no two are identical; many illustrations hand-treated. Other owners of versions of the Bible include the Vatican, Yale University and the Mayo Clinic.

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