If you have walked through the lobby of the Leatherby Libraries since late December, you may have noticed a beautiful new display case containing some open books and flyers. This will be housing, starting on January 22nd, the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible. The Bible and case will remain in their current position until the end of Spring semester, and will then travel to different locations in the library and on campus for the rest of the year.

A display case in a library lobby, with books inside

The display case, currently housing books about The Saint John’s Bible

Using medieval techniques of calligraphy and illumination, The Saint John’s Bible is the first Bible of its kind since the invention of the printing press. For calligraphers, making an illuminated Bible is the artistic equivalent of the painting of the Sistine Chapel. The Saint John’s Bible took over a dozen years to move through conceptualization to completion.

The 1,165-page manuscript has 160 major illuminations and special treatments on dozens of other texts. Creator Donald Jackson, Queen Elizabeth II’s royal scribe, developed a special font for this Bible and brought together a small team of artists and calligraphers to work alongside him on this project. The Bible was written on calfskin vellum using traditional tools and inks and it is massive – two feet by three feet – when open.

The goal of The Saint John’s Bible is to ignite the spiritual imagination of people around the world. The illuminations are not illustrations of stories – they are spiritual meditations on texts that invite the reader to engage with scripture in fresh, new ways.

Wanting to expand the reach of The Saint John’s Bible, Donald Jackson personally oversaw a second project – creating the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, 299 full-size reproductions. The pages are 100 percent cotton and are made to have the look and feel of the original vellum. The state-of-the-art lithographic printing process assures fidelity to the original.

Open books, pamphlets, and flyers inside a display case

Background material currently on display in the case, chronicling the making of the Heritage Edition.

After printing, embossing and stamping processes add lustrous gold and silver to the illuminations and some are hand treated with gold to most accurately resemble the original. The volumes are magnificently hand-bound in Italian embossed leather and are predicted to last for 1,000 years. Beyond the 299 Heritage Edition Bibles, there will be no additional copies made.

Chapman University, through a gift from the Office of Church Relations, is bringing the Gospel & Acts volume of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible on loan to campus for a year in 2019. A team of Church Relations staff, faculty, library staff and community members are organizing a year of events to engage the Chapman community and our visitors to explore this volume.

Rev. Nancy Brink, Director of the Office of Church Relations, was instrumental in bringing The Saint John’s Bible to the Chapman campus. She recounts her experience with the Bible, and her decision to bring it to Chapman:

“Since seeing The Saint John’s Bible at a museum over a decade ago, I have kept musing on the way this Bible has opened my mind and heart. The act of reading the text in calligraphy literally slows you down, something that makes the reading more powerful because you are paying closer attention. The illuminations themselves have filled me with wonder, appreciating the depth of academic rigor and imagination coupled with artistic brilliance. Some images have been so powerfully locked into my heart that I can no longer read that passage without the illumination coming to me.

Since learning that The Saint John’s Bible project has been expanded to include the creation of 299 museum quality full sized digital reproductions, I have dreamed of bringing this Bible to Chapman. Our founder, Charles Clarke Chapman, was a student of scripture and collected old Bibles. One or more of these Bibles are on permanent display in the Vestibule of the Fish Interfaith Center, along with sacred texts from Jewish, Muslim and Mormon traditions. Adding this 21st century Bible that highlights the role of women, lifts up the biblical concern for persons who are at the margins of society, and celebrates the discoveries of science and technology seems a great fit.

The Office of Church Relations is bringing the Gospels & Acts volume of The Saint John’s Bible for 2019 and I am pleased to be doing fund-raising with a dream of Chapman being a permanent steward of one of the seven-volume Heritage Editions in perpetuity. Not only do I hope to have the Bible on display for the Chapman family and the larger community, there are plans to use the Bible in classrooms and in group studies of scripture every week.”

Rev. Brink has worked to bring The Saint John’s Bible to Chapman along with the other members of The Saint John’s Bible committee: Bill Cumiford, Professor of History; Essraa Nawar, Leatherby Libraries Development Coordinator; Brett Fisher, Chair of the Library Systems & Technology Division; Lynda Hall, Professor of English; Kari Kempf, Office of Church Relations Coordinator; Rachel Levinson-Emley, Library Events and External Relations Assistant; Cisa Payuyo, Office of Church Relations Associate Director; Rebecca Prichard, Lecturer in Religious Studies; and Wendy Salmond, Professor of Art. In May, several members of the committee traveled to Saint John’s University in Minnesota, to visit the original, complete manuscript of The Saint John’s Bible, and to learn more about what having our copy of the Heritage Edition on campus would entail.

A number of events are planned for the duration of the Bible’s year on the Chapman campus. These events will include a talk by Tim Ternes, Director of The Saint John’s Bible at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota, on Thursday, February 28, at 7 pm in the Wilkinson Founders Chapel located in the Fish Interfaith Center; a talk by Father Eric Hollas, OSB, as a part of Founders Day, on Saturday, March 9; and an address by Chapman President Daniele Struppa on Tuesday, April 9.

Banner photo courtesy of Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. 2014.