Extraordinary combination of art and Scripture visits Houston

March 11, 2014

HOUSTON — The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston had a rare opportunity to see a magnificent piece of art and Scripture at a special introduction to the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible. 

The original version of The St. John’s Bible is the first handwritten, hand-illuminated Bible to be created since the invention of the printing press more than 500 years ago. In 1998, the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., commissioned renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce the Bible. 

Divided into seven volumes, each two feet tall by three feet wide when open, the Bible displays a mixture of techniques used in the creation of ancient illuminated manuscripts (handwritten with quills on calf-skin vellum, featuring gold and platinum leaf and hand-ground pigments) and modern technology: computer software was utilized to plan the layout of the Bible and line-breaks for the text.

On Feb. 28, Houstonians got the opportunity to see two volumes of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, a fine art reproduction of the original, on display at the Nold Building at St. Mary’s Seminary. 

Its creation has engaged the finest printing experts and binders to ensure faithful representation of the original manuscript. 

A world-class team of scribes, artists and craftspeople has guided its development from the ink first touching the vellum to the creation of the Heritage Edition — each of which brilliantly maintains the awe-inspiring artistic intent of the original. 

Each of the 1,150 pages and 160 illuminations has been scrupulously compared to its original counterpart to guarantee accurate reproduction. Only 299 versions of the Heritage Edition exist worldwide, and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio is the only organization in Texas to own one. The university’s president, Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., and the Houston Alumni Association were instrumental in bringing the Bible to Houston.

The evening included an opportunity to view the volumes and a presentation by Dr. Robert O’Connor, assistant professor of theology at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. O’Connor explained the significance of the St. John’s Bible, both as a major work of art and theology. 

“Most who see the Bible appear to be moved by the scope, the scale, the grandness of the work. They seem regularly to be in awe,” said O’Connor. “The Bible’s creativity, uniqueness, beauty and lasting nature were all characteristics that the Benedictines aimed to achieve when they commissioned the project in 1998.” 

Father Trung Nguyen, the rector at St. Mary’s Seminary, hopes that the presentation encourages people to take an active role in learning sacred Scripture. “St. Jerome once said that ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,’” Father Nguyen said. “The very heart of priestly ministry is proclaiming the Word of God, and our vocation is like no other — we have the privilege of studying and proclaiming the Word of God to his people, this presentation allows everybody a new way to examine the Word of God.”

For more information about the Saint John’s Bible visit www.saintjohnsbible.org.