St. John’s Bible

“Genesis Frontispiece: Creation” with artwork by Donald Jackson with contributions from Chris Tomlin.

In our year of studying The Red Book, it’s interesting to come upon a modern-day illuminated book, produced by hand much in the same way as in medieval times. And even more interesting that this is a Bible, representing the traditional stories and teachings of the Bible but with symbolism that relates them to contemporary times. The St. John’s Bible was commissioned by Saint John’s University and Abbey in Minnesota, after being presented with the idea by Donald Jackson, Senior Illuminator to Her Majesty’s Crown Office, who had dreamed of creating a modern, illuminated Bible to celebrate the new millennium. Work began in 2000 and the final volume is being completed now by Jackson and a team of scribes and illuminators working in a scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales. The work is in seven volumes, six of which are available for sale in reproduction. An exhibition of prints is touring now and was recently on display at John Brown University in Siloam Springs.

Above: “Adam and Eve are presented as an African man and woman surrounded by patterned fabrics from various ancient cultures. Photographs of Ethiopian tribes-people influenced Jackson’s design. He wanted to link the notion of the Bible’s first man and woman with current archaeological and anthropological theories that humankind originated in Africa. The decorative framing around Adam and Eve includes African tapestry patterns and, on the right, a Peruvian feather cape. The horizontal stripes are details of Middle Eastern textiles and of white body painting on black skin. The poisonous coral snake, also depicted in the Creation and Garden of Eden illuminations, appears between Adam and Eve. Jackson’s use of a gold bar framing Adam and Eve is meant to suggest God’s presence as a framework for human life.”

Psalms frontispiece: “Superimposed on this image are digital voiceprints (electronic images of sound) of the monks at Saint John’s Abbey singing Gregorian chant; a Native American sacred song; a Jewish men’s chorus singing psalms; Buddhist tantric harmonics; an Islamic call to prayer (adhan); Taoist temple music; Hindu bhajan; and Indian Sufi chant. The voiceprints of the Saint John’s monks appear on every page, moving horizontally throughout the Psalms in gold.”  (see detail below)

And an interesting representation of parables from the Gospel of Luke, one of which is extremely timely. The parables and one story are illustrated in diagonal bands that read in descending order from left to right. In the third band:
Parable of the Lost Son (15:11-32): The erring son leaves the pigs he has tended and returns to his father, who runs to meet him and forgive him. The twin towers of the World Trade Center point to the need for forgiveness in our time and for seeking alternatives to revenge.

There’s a very good online exhibition of images with descriptions of symbolism from the Library of Congress.

1 Response to “St. John’s Bible”

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The NWA Friends of Jung meets the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month in the library at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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