God’s word by human hands

The pope has one, so does the Library of Congress and even the Mayo Clinic, and for the next year, the province’s Roman Catholics will also have a volume of the Saint John’s Bible.

For the next 12 months, Catholics can see — and even touch — a full-sized reproduction of the hand-lettered Saint John’s Bible as it rotates through parishes and schools.

“We’re encouraged not to keep it away from people,” says Christopher Adams, rector of St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba. “The students will gather around it and turn the pages.”

The original Saint John’s Bible, lettered and illustrated by a team of British calligraphers and artists, was completed in 2011 for Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn.

Bound in red and printed on high-quality cotton paper, this fine-art edition of the Gospels and Acts measures 60 centimetres wide and 91 cm tall, and features a digital copy of the text and hand-finished illustrations and illuminations.

“We want to place these in the hands of institutions… who will share these with the community,” says Jim Triggs, of Saint John’s University about the 299 sets of the full-sized seven-volume reproductions, which retail for US$165,000.

The university loans out the Gospel and Acts volumes from eight of the sets for a year at a time for US$9,500.

The Gospel volume will move between St. Paul’s College, St. Paul’s High School, St. Mary’s Academy, and the archdioceses of Winnipeg and Saint Boniface, beginning on Sunday with the first of three talks in the Hanley Lectures, sponsored by St. Paul’s College.

Rev. Michael Patella, who has been a member of the team since the project’s inception in 1996, has witnessed the Bible project grow and inspire people in ways no one imagined when the brothers at St. John’s Abbey agreed to commission British calligrapher Donald Jackson and his team to hand-letter and illustrate all 66 books of the Christian Bible.

“It’s resurrecting the whole tradition of art in biblical studies,” says Patella, a biblical scholar who delivers the Hanley Lectures using the Saint John’s Bible to illustrate his topic of Catholic interpretation of scripture.

“The images inform the text and the text informs the images.”

Teachers at St. Mary’s Academy plan to explore that interplay of text and images during their time with the Saint John’s Bible, using it in weekly prayers, special school-wide liturgies, and the annual presentation of Bibles to Grade 7 students, says Michelle Garlinski, director of charism and mission.

“It’s not a one-dimensional piece of work. That’s what so exciting about it,” says Garlinski, who says the volume will be available to students in their art, literature and biblical studies classes.

“It’s truly a Bible for the 21st century. I think they (the students) will see multiple ways to interact with the divine.”

That’s exactly what Patella hopes for anyone who encounters the Saint John’s Bible in its various formats, whether through the fine-art edition, the coffee-table books or by paging through the digital version online.

“I hope it provides a way for them to be fascinated with the mysteries (of the sacred text) and grow with it and fall in love with it,” says Patella, author of Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of The Saint John’s Bible.

“In teaching with it, students see things I didn’t notice were there.”

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