May 10, 2013

The Saint John's Bible Heritage Edition

The Heritage Edition of The Saint John's Bible is now on display in O'Grady Library. The public is welcome to visit during regular library hours.

An opening spread from Wisdom Books shows the
"Garden of Desire" illumination from Sirach 24 by Suzanne Moore of Vashon Island.

Copyright © Terry Anderson Photography

The Saint John's Bible

The Saint John’s Bible is the first hand-written, illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in 500 years. It was commissioned by Saint John’s University and Abbey in 1998 “to ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world.” Saint John’s is Saint Martin’s founding abbey (1895).

The 73 books of the Old and New Testaments have been collected in seven volumes: Gospels and Acts (2002), Pentateuch (2003), Psalms (2004), Prophets (2005), Wisdom Books (2006), Historical Books (2010), Letters and Revelation (2011).

This remarkable artistic creation fuses contemporary themes and technologies with centuries-old techniques and materials. Page layouts and line breaks were designed on a computer. The pages themselves are calfskin vellum, and the script was written with goose, turkey and swan quills dipped in lampblack ink made from rare nineteenth century Chinese ink sticks.

Hand-ground pigments - vermillion, lapis lazuli and others - were combined with egg yolk and water to form paints for the illuminations, which were embossed with gold and platinum leaf. The illuminations were created with traditional techniques, but incorporate contemporary themes and images.

The original Saint John’s Bible is housed at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota.

Heritage Edition

The Heritage Edition is a full-size, fine art edition of The Saint John’s Bible. Donald Jackson, the artistic director for The Saint John’s Bible, was also the artistic director of the Heritage Edition, working with leading experts in printing and binding to ensure the faithful and consistent representation of the original. Production was limited to 299 sets, each numbered and signed by Jackson. Saint Martin’s University is the only library in western Washington that owns a set of the Heritage Edition.

The approximately 1160 pages of the seven volume Heritage Edition are printed on uncoated cotton paper with an innovative, high-tech, ultraviolet printing process. Illuminations are embossed with gold and silver foil to replicate the effects of the gold and platinum leaf of the original. The volumes are bound in handcrafted, embossed Italian calfskin with a silver clasp. Like the original, the volumes are monumental in size: approximately 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide when open and weighing from 13 to nearly 20 pounds.

Saint Martin’s currently has four of the seven volumes: Pentateuch, Wisdom Books, Psalms, and Prophets.


Saint Martin’s University commissioned the design and construction of two display cases from Olympia craftsman David (Dusty) Knobel of Knobel Wood Works.  These stunning vitrines complement the beauty of both the Heritage Edition and O’Grady Library.

Both display cases are in O’Grady Library, one in the Marcus Lobby and the other outside the Mitchell Special Collections. Volumes will be rotated periodically and pages turned on a weekly basis.
Learn more about The Saint John's Bible:

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