Selections from the first handwritten, illuminated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago are currently on display at the Library of Congress, along with rare illuminated manuscripts and Bibles from the Library's collections. Titled "Illuminating the Word: The Saint John's Bible," the exhibition opened to the public on Oct. 6 in the Northwest Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building and will remain on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday–Saturday, through Dec. 30.
The Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division and the Interpretive Programs Office are collaborating with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Saint John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., to exhibit selections from the first three volumes of The Saint John's Bible to be completed by calligrapher Donald Jackson. The Library is one stop in a nationwide tour of the Bible.
"As the home of the Gutenberg Bible—one of the world's three perfect copies on vellum—and the Giant Bible of Mainz, both of which are on permanent display in the Thomas Jefferson Building, the Library of Congress is an important stop on the tour of The Saint John's Bible," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "This contemporary work pays homage to the medieval art form of manuscript illumination, which is richly represented in the Library's rare book collections."
"The Saint John's Bible makes a statement about faith, as well as the importance of art and imagination," said Brother Dietrich Reinhart, Order of Saint Benedict, president of Saint John's University. "We are pleased to share our work and introduce new elements of the project to audiences across the country through this extended tour."
Saint John's Abbey and University commissioned Jackson as the artistic director to create The Saint John's Bible in the tradition of medieval manuscripts. Working with a team of theologians and artists from Saint John's Abbey and University, Jackson has spent the last six years in Wales, handwriting and illustrating the manuscript with traditional tools—quills and paints that are hand-ground from minerals and elements such as lapis lazuli, malachite, silver, copper and 24-karat gold.
One of the world's leading calligraphers, Jackson is senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Crown Office at the House of Lords in the United Kingdom; he is responsible for the creation of official state documents. Jackson is an elected fellow and past chairman of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators. His 30-year retrospective exhibition, "Painting with Words," premiered at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts in August 1988 and traveled to 13 museums and galleries.
The Library's exhibition features The Saint John's Bible's illumination of the Pentateuch, the first five books of Jewish and Christian scripture; Gospels and Acts; and Psalms. Highlights include folios of the Seven Days of Creation, Genesis, the Garden of Eden, the Ten Commandments, the Birth of Christ, the Crucifixion and the frontispieces for the four Gospels. Original artist's tools, sketches and materials from Jackson's scriptorium are also on view.
A multimedia presentation provides visitors with a brief overview of the Library's illuminated manuscripts, Bibles and related works in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The Rare Book Division holds the most comprehensive and universal rare book collection in the United States. Numbering nearly 800,000 items, division holdings include 5,700 incunabula (books typeset and printed by hand from moveable type prior to 1501); numerous other early printed books; Thomas Jefferson's personal library; the magnificent Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection of Illustrated Books; the libraries of czars of Russia; and countless other unique materials.
Selected volumes from the Library's extraordinary collection of Bibles are also on display. These include a handwritten Bible in Latin (13th century); Nicolas Jenson's "Biblia Sacre" (1479); the Geneva Bible (1560); the King James Bible (1611); the Eliot Indian Bible (1663), the first Bible printed in the western hemisphere; a hieroglyphic bible for children (1788); and a version of the four Gospels from the King James Bible, illustrated by Eric Gill (1931). These editions offer insight into the significance of the images that illustrate the Bibles as well as the origins and usage of the Bibles.
Organized by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Saint John's University, the exhibition and its national tour are made possible by Target. The Allbritton Foundation makes possible the Library's exhibition of "Illuminating the Word."
Consisting of 1,150 pages in seven volumes, The Saint John's Bible will be completed in 2008. It then will be housed permanently at the Hill House Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John's Abbey and University. For more information about this project and the exhibition tour schedule, visit www.saintjohnsbible.org.