The Illustrated Word: The Saint John's Bible

By any measure, it is a stunning achievement. Since 1998, the artist Donald Jackson has been diligently at work on the first handwritten, illuminated Bible since the invention of the printing press five centuries ago. Under the auspices of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., and The Liturgical Press, the first of seven volumes of Mr. Jackson’s masterwork, The Saint John’s Bible has just been published. The master artist boasts an impressive set of credentials, including “Senior Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office at the House of Lords,” a position responsible for the creation of all the major state documents of the United Kingdom.

The first volume in the series, Gospels and Acts, is a glorious book, with near-flawless calligraphy, and crammed with marvelously creative representations of familiar Gospel stories and parables. The text of the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew, for example, fittingly takes up almost an entire page, with the remainder given over to a riotously colorful abstract celebration of the word Blessed. The Sower (the star of the Sower and the Seed parable in Mark’s Gospel) is dressed in a homespun shirt and bluejeans. And the Resurrection story in Mark is illustrated with an Audubon-quality illustration of the lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly. (Those butterflies, by the way, are common in central Minnesota, the home of St. John’s Abbey.)

There are even homier touches. On one page, where Mr. Jackson had inadvertently omitted some text, a little gray bird carries a string that attaches the forgotten words to their proper place in the narrative.

The pictures and texts on these pages speak for themselves and for Mr. Jackson’s historic accomplishment and his generous gift to believers worldwide.

This is the Catholic Book Club selection for March. To purchase St. John’s Bible: Gospels and Acts from Amazon.com, click here.

A companion book was the Catholic Book Club selection for February, Illuminating the Word, says it all: The Making of The Saint John’s Bible.

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