It is finished: remarkable hand-drawn Bible goes on display

It is finished: remarkable hand-drawn Bible goes on display September 19, 2011

It’s quite an achievement and, as those who have seen it can attest, it is a feast for the eye.  (I gave a copy of the Psalms to my pastor as a gift for the 40th anniversary of his ordination.  It’s ravishing.)


It was a task of biblical proportions — drawing every letter and illustration in a Bible painstakingly by hand. Now, 13 years after its inception, the brightly colored and massive St. John’s Bible is complete, and pages from the finished work are about to go on display.

The Benedictine monks at St. John’s Abbey and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., commissioned the Bible in 1998 to celebrate the beginning of a new millennium. The first words were written on Ash Wednesday 2000, and the seventh and final volume — “Letters and Revelation” — was completed earlier this year, with the final word — “Amen” — written on May 9, 2011.

“It has far surpassed what any of us ever imagined in our most optimum moments,” Abbot John Klassen said in an interview at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where the final pages of the St. John’s Bible go on display Friday.

Klassen, who leads an abbey of about 145 monks located 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis, estimates the project cost about $8 million. He said the Bible was paid for by donations through the years, and the abbey also expects to make money on full-size “Heritage Edition” facsimiles that cost about $140,000 for a complete set.

“This (the Heritage Edition) is a major investment for anyone. But it is truly, I think, of that kind of caliber,” Klassen said Thursday. “The quality of the workmanship and the quality of the artistry is phenomenal.”

Scribes working in Wales under the supervision of chief calligrapher Donald Jackson used quills cut from goose or swan feathers (Jackson was the sole writer and illuminator of Revelation). Words were written on large sheets of prepared vellum, or calfskin, and paints were hand-ground from such precious minerals or stones as gold, silver or malachite. Gold or silver leaf gild was then used to illuminate or bring pages to light.

When open, the facing pages measure about 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall. The Bible runs nearly 1,150 pages in seven separate volumes.

Modern touches dominate the St. John’s Bible, believed to be the only handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in the more than 500 years since the invention of the printing press. Klassen sweeps his hand across a page from Ezekiel, which shows “The Valley of Dry Bones” at the bottom as a gray pile of skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge, a crashed car, and victim eyeglasses from the Holocaust. But at the top of the page are shimmering rainbow colors representing God’s covenant with his people.

Bible scholar Ben Witherington, a professor and author who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., says he has never encountered anything similar to the St. John’s Bible. He says writing a Bible by hand — a tradition dating to medieval times — is “enormously difficult.”

Read more.

And you can check out more of this remarkable Bible at this link.

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6 responses to “It is finished: remarkable hand-drawn Bible goes on display”

  1. 140,000 dollars??? I would love to have a copy of this Bible, but I guess I’ll just have to wait a couple of years and get a copy from Half Price books. 🙂

  2. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in a pretty jaded world, but there aren’t many things I would describe as ‘magnificent’.

    This Bible *is* magnificent. Even the facsimiles (the word does not do them justice) can only be handled by specially trained individuals wearing protective gloves, and only displayed when properly supported on a special pillow.

    This all can sound really excessive, but if you ever have the chance to see this work (most likely the facsimiles) by all means do so – it is truly awe-inspiring and obviously created to glorify The Word made flesh.

    God bless.

  3. I have the home editions which are 66% (1/3rd less) the size of the original. They cost between $55 to $80 dollars per book. So the cost is not astronomical for the average person although it will be approximately $500 for all seven books. This Bible is worth the money.
    When I read, I slow down and pray the Word. The writing draws you in and, being hand done and stylistic, does not allow for skimming over the print.
    The artistry is modern with each book somewhat different. There is cohesiveness to all the books in the use of gold for God and certain repeated designs.
    I enjoy my St John’s Bible set and look forward to the last book Letters and Revelations.

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