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St. John’s Bible touring Winnipeg archdiocese

By James Buchok


WINNIPEG — The St. John’s Bible, a handwritten and illuminated creation 15 years in the making at a Benedictine Abbey in Minnesota to mark the third Christian millennium, is touring the Archdiocese of Winnipeg for the next year.

The Scripture is accompanied by 160 illuminations designed for specific passages but with touches of humankind’s accomplishments over the past 500 years. All the text is written in calligraphy, with a script designed specifically for the project. It is the first handwritten Bible commissioned by the Benedictines since the invention of the printing press 500 years ago. It is based on the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

“The New Revised Standard Version is a revision of the RSV, which is descended from the King James, so, for English speakers, it has a great pedigree,” said Rev. Michael Patella, OSB, a monk of St. John’s Abbey. Patella is an author, theologian, and professor at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., part of the St. John’s Abbey campus, which also hosts St. John’s Preparatory School and the graduate School of Theology Seminary. The affiliated St. Benedict’s women’s college is in nearby St. Joseph, Minn.

“As a translation, it is truly an ecumenical effort, with nearly every major Christian denomination represented among the translators, including Roman Catholic,” said Patella, who presented this year’s Hanley Lecture Series, March 19 - 20, sponsored annually by St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba.

The Bible tour is displaying renditions of Gospels and Acts, which include illuminations of the genealogy of Jesus, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Luke’s anthology, the crucifixion and the Gospel of St. John.

Modern images used to bring the ancient words to life include a double-helix DNA strand, images sent from the Hubble telescope, the Twin Towers of 9/11, jet airplanes, modern architecture, an allusion to the AIDS virus, and scenes of genocide, but all with a subtle and stylized method. Such items are intended to give future generations clues as to when the Bible was created. Other images come from Eastern religious and Native American traditions. Many illuminations emphasize women, neglected peoples, and the poor. All animals, fauna and insects in the artwork are native to Minnesota. The volumes are two feet high by three feet wide when open.

“We wanted this project to look to the future, not the past; hence, any biblical translation that used antique language was not considered. It also uses inclusive language, which was a requirement from the beginning,” Patella said.

The Bible is a collaboration of Scripture scholars and theologians at St. John’s University with a team of artists and calligraphers. In 2000, Donald Jackson, senior scribe to Queen Elizabeth, and a crew of artists and calligraphers began the first of the Bible’s 1,150 vellum pages.

The Bible is written and drawn entirely by hand using quills and pigments hand-ground from minerals and stones such as malachite, silver and 24-karat gold. A team from Minnesota and Wales worked together to complete the project.

Patella believes the legacy of the work “will be a realization of the role of art in faith and theology. Scripture is more than a text. Truth is more than a treatise or essay. Some things can only be expressed with colour, design, and image.”

“The Word of God is not limited by the five senses but involves all of them and things we have not yet imagined.”

To find out where the St. John’s Bible will be on display, contact St. Paul’s College at (204) 474-8582.

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