Submitted photo##The St. Johns Bible manuscript will be on display at First Presbyterian Church Sunday.
Submitted photo##The St. Johns Bible manuscript will be on display at First Presbyterian Church Sunday.
Submitted photo##The St. Johns Bible Manuscript is shown to Pope Francis and Rep. John Boehner.
Submitted photo##The St. Johns Bible Manuscript is shown to Pope Francis and Rep. John Boehner.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

St. John's Bible will be on display in Mac

George Fox University professor Paul Anderson discussed the Saint John’s Bible, which he said is the first illuminated, hand calligraphied Bible created for the Benedictines in 500 years, and one of the first since the invention of the printing press.

“It’s also signifigant because it was an international effort, produced by the leading calligraphers and artists in the world,” said Anderson, who teaches biblical and Quaker studies.

At his Sunday talk, he showed Volume 6 of the seven-volume Bible. The volume was the first to be produced, since it includes the Gospels and Acts, “the most important and most compelling” section of the Bible to people around the world, he said.

The volume is on display at George Fox in Newberg through the end of the month. Anderson is hoping a donor or donors will contribute the $140,000 needed to purchase the entire set for permanent residence at his school.

Organizers of the McMinnville presentation would like that, as well. They’re pleased to be able to hear Anderson’s talk and see -- and touch -- the special book.

Gloves were available so people would touch as well as view the pages, said Jane Kristof, a church member helped set up the program.

It was an amazing opportunity, said the retired art history professor, who also appreciates that theologians were involved in the entire process.

Kristof said the Saint John’s Bible is the most beautiful version she’s ever seen. She viewed Volume 6 at George Fox and found it “much more magnificent” than she’d expected, even though she had seen photos before.

“The scale ... the intensity of color ... seeing in person is so much more,” she said. “Plus, being able to discuss it with others always enhances the viewing.”

The Bible was commissioned in 1997 by St. John’s Abbey and St. John’s University in Minnesota.

But it had been under discussion for two decades before that, Anderson said. Donald Jackson, official scribe for the Queen of England and one of the top calligraphers in the world, had been talking about his dream project since the mid-1970s.

“He wanted to produce an illuminate Bible of the same quality as the great illuminated Bibles from before printing,” Anderson said. 

After St. John’s commissioned the project, Jackson recruited six other top calligraphers and six artists, as well as a planning committee. They spent the next two years plotting the Scripture pages, showing how many words would be on each page and where the 160 pieces of art would go. 

They estimated the project would cost $3 million to complete. It ended up costing $8 million.

In 2001, calligraphers and artists began their part of the project, working out of a scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales. It took the next 10 years to complete the project.

“The calligraphy is so beautiful,” Kristof said. “Each page is by a single calligrapher, so there are no changes in style.” 

They used vellum pages for the original version. The ink was a 19th century pigment that Jackson acquired one stick at a time from a London shop, Anderson said; at the end of the project, only one or two sticks remained. 

The painters also used vintage media, such as egg yolks and whites for the tempura. They created representations within the text as well as pictures that entirely cover some of the 24x18-inch pages. 

The artists were intentionally chosen not just for their skill, but also for the diversity of their styles. They included an impressionist from the Pacific Northwest, Suzanne Moore, as well as a leading naturalist, another who plays off the forms of letters and words, an artist whose technique resembles Eastern Orthodox paintings and others. 

“They wanted to use new, nonconventional ways of approaching classical Biblical themes,” said Anderson, who has written essays about the Bible for the Huffington Post and other publications.

In addition, the creators of the Saint John’s Bible wanted to ensure the art encompassed everything represented by scripture, including the role of powerful women and myriad faith traditions, he said. For instance, the frontispiece of the Gospel of Matthew features a menorah and celebrates the Jewish genealogy of Jesus.

The paintings also show the earth from outer space, he said. Africa and Madagascar face out, rather than North America. 

Not only are the paintings “just gorgeous,” Kristof said, but they also are thought-provoking. They truly add depth to the reader’s understanding of the words with a mixture of traditional and contemporary references, she said.

For example, the parable of the prodigal son is illuminated with a painting that includes New York’s Twin Towers in the background. “The parable is about forgiveness,” Kristof said, “and that’s the thing that’s so hard for us to forgive.”

The vellum edition of the Saint John’s Bible is housed at the Minnesota abbey. The volume six at George Fox is part of 299 additional sets with cotton pages -- copies, in a way, but each one a beautiful, hand-crafted original, Anderson said.

Like the vellum original, each of the “copies” features hand-done illumination — which refers to adding gold, silver or other metal embossing to the artwork. Each is hand-stitched and bound with Italian leather, with several blank pages at the front and back to allow for eventual rebinding, as necessary.

“They’re really designed to last one or two millenia or longer, longer than the libraries that house them,” Anderson said.

As a biblical scholar, Anderson said, he appreciates the Saint John’s Bible for its potential.

“It’s meant to raise our biblical perspective beyond our limited scope and help us appreciate the global reach of biblical truth,” he said. “The Bible wasn’t written in America, after all.”

It also shows how relevant the Bible is to every age, including 2015, he said.

For instance, he said, take the story of Mary and Joseph being forced into traveling, then seeking refuge and shelter. “Think about the Syrian refugees who are displaced today,” he said. “Just like in Luke, Chapter 2, God’s presence is available to the common people who have no place to stay.”

For more information about the Saint John’s Bible, or to donate to George Fox’s efforts to buy a copy, contact Anderson at or 503-554-2651.

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