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An Undertaking of Biblical Proportions

Posted on 18th June, 2005 at 12:55pm by joel

headline image for “An Undertaking of Biblical Proportions”The above images are Copyright © 2005 Saint John’s University

The Saint John’s Bible is going to be one of the most spectacular artistic and spiritual works ever created when it is finished. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is showing the in-progress piece and had a special CSB|SJU Alumnae/i event on Thursday.

Every once in a while, I encounter a piece of art that makes me gasp in amazement and stand transfixed by the incredible beauty and unbelievable skill necessary to create such a work. This happens a lot when I visit the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), but I have never been so amazed as I was on Thursday evening while taking in the “Illuminating the Word” exhibit. Allow me to explain.

The Saint John’s Bible is the first hand-written, illuminated Bible produced in almost 600 years. It is being created entirely using traditional methods and materials with a little help from modern technology: quill pens, hand-made inks, calf-skin vellum pages, gold leaf, and so on get a boost from computerized layout and planning software and a team of calligraphers and artists gathered from several countries. When finished in 2007, this Bible will be two feet tall, three feet wide, over 1000 pages long, and span seven large volumes. With proper care and preservation, it will likely last several thousand years, its impact and influence surviving much longer.

Taking all these details into consideration, I see myself as being exceedingly fortunate to be able to witness the creation of such a masterpiece of artistic ability and triumph of spiritual dedication. For all we know, a project of this sort may never happen again. And yet, it bears the name of my Alma Mater and is being painstakingly crafted in my lifetime. I feel honored and privileged to be even a tiny part of this project. It was with great excitement that I attended the College of St. Benedict | St. John’s University Alumnae/i function to celebrate this incredible project.

Three paragraphs of gushing and I am only now getting to the most important part: this piece of artwork is nothing short of incredible. It is stunning, amazing, beautiful, mind-bending, gorgeous, triumphant, and any number of adjectives used to heap praise upon creative successes. The crux of the Bible, the calligraphic lettering, has a precision and beauty that breathes a life into the Word in the most amazing way. Even if all seven volumes were to be nothing but text, the Bible would be a resounding success.

But as we all know, they are not all text. These volumes and the stories they contain are illuminated in such a way that even a viewer with no inclination toward Christian spirituality would find himself immediately and completely immersed in the visual lusciousness of the pages. From the large-scale illuminations to the detail work in the margins to the drop-capitals starting selected paragraphs, each and every colorful, artistic, shimmering touch is rendered with a fine and careful detail monumental in its precision. Each illustration could stand on its own as a successful and breathtaking work of art, but when combined not only with countless other works, but with the millennia-old Word of God, the result transcends comprehension.

I would be foolish to continue to try to describe the Saint John’s Bible and do it justice. Words cannot properly explain the feelings running through my mind, body, and soul on Thursday as I worked my way through that exhibit at the MIA. There was a power at work greater than that which I can understand. This project truly is an undertaking of Biblical proportions, one in which Donald Jackson and his team of world-class calligraphers and artists are creating a monumental achievement not only for Christianity or for art, but for the entire world.

If you live in or near the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, I highly encourage you to visit the MIA before the exhibit closes on July 3rd. More information can be found on the “Illuminating the Word” mini-site. To learn more about the Bible and upcoming tour locations and dates, visit the Saint John’s Bible web site and gallery. Be fair-warned, the piece is breathtaking���and there is an online gift shop.

Filed under: art, ramblings, St. John's

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3 Responses to “An Undertaking of Biblical Proportions”

  1. 1joel sayeth:

    18th June, 2005 at 1:01pm

    P.S. I didn’t want to clutter the article with my shameful confession to the the horrible pun found both in the title and in the second to last paragraph. Yes, “Biblical Proportions” was intentional, but it is also too fitting a phrase not use it. Sorry.

  2. 2Halbie sayeth:

    18th June, 2005 at 1:56pm

    That’s pretty cool looking. A very impressive feat to say the least.

  3. 3John Pennypacker sayeth:

    20th June, 2005 at 7:46am

    whoa. That is a big project!

    And you didn’t the disclaimer for the pun. :p

    When do they expect to have it finished, I wonder? It would be something to see, for certain.