The Saint John’s Bible is the inspiration of Donald Jackson, renowned calligrapher and official scribe to Queen Elizabeth II. Donald Jackson dreamed of creating a handwritten, illuminated bible in the tradition of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. After approaching St. John's University, Jackson was commissioned to produce the Saint John’s Bible in 1998. Under the direction of Donald Jackson and a Committee on Illumination and Text from St. John’s University, an international team of artists, calligraphers, and biblical and theological scholars, worked for thirteen years to complete the Saint John’s Bible. It is the first complete bible to be handwritten and illuminated since the advent of the printing press over 500 years ago.
The Saint John’s Bible is written on vellum and consists of 1,150 pages and 160 illuminations. It will be on permanent display on the campus of St. John’s University as of 2017. The Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible is a fine art reproduction of the original. It was created in order to share the beauty of the original with the world and to inspire people through the celebration of the word of God. The pages of the Heritage Edition were designed to look and feel like vellum and have been hand bound in 7 volumes. There are 299 sets of the Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible. Each set is hand treated after printing with stamping and embossing processes, to ensure it is true to the artistic intent of the original manuscript.
The Saint John’s Bible incorporates modern elements such as strands of DNA woven through the illumination of the Genealogy of Christ and images from the Hubble telescope in the depiction of Creation. An ecumenical approach was adopted through the use of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the bible; a translation officially authorized for use by most Christian churches. Themes of transformation, justice for God’s people, and hospitality are emphasized in text and imagery throughout the Saint’s John’s Bible. We are connected through scripture and art to a powerful message of care for “the poor, the pilgrim, the seeker and the stranger”.
In this Year of Mercy, as we are reminded of Pope Francis’ invitation, “let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish” (Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013), the imagery displayed in the Saint John’s Bible is particularly potent. The Saint’s John’s Bible is both a modern day statement and an invocation to connect to artistic and spiritual traditions.