Sacred Words:

The Saint John's Bible and the Art of Illumination

The first illuminated, handwritten Bible of monumental size to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in the modern era is now on view at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Sacred Words: The Saint John’s Bible and the Art of Illumination opened October 15 at OKCMOA and includes seventy selected folios from The Saint John’s Bible as well as other historical illuminated manuscripts, such as a Book of Hours, Quran pages, and Torah scrolls. Sacred Words includes a selection of original, unbound illuminated manuscript folios on calfskin vellum from The Saint John’s Bible, as well as sketches, drawings, inks and tools used to create the manuscript.

The Saint John’s Bible was created by a team of 23 scribes, artists and assistants headquartered in a scriptorium in Wales under the artistic direction of Donald Jackson, one of the world’s foremost calligraphers and the scribe to Queen Elizabeth’s Crown office at the House of Lords. The theological aspects of the project were guided by a committee of theologians, artists and scholars at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The Bible incorporates many of the characteristics of its medieval predecessors: it is written on vellum, using quills, natural inks, hand-ground pigments, and gold-leaf gilding. However, so this edition is relevant today, it employs a modern English translation as well as beautifully painted illuminations that interpret biblical passages in contemporary terms.

Sacred Words presents the concept, historical context, technical execution and significance of The Saint John’s Bible and illumination as an art form. This exhibition, open through Jan. 8, 2017, will examine the revival of a millennia-old tradition of meticulous handcraftsmanship that incorporates advances in modern technology.

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Homepage photo: Thomas Ingmire, Ten Commandments, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. (Detail); Gallery Credits: Donald Jackson, Creation, Copyright 2003, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA;Thomas Ingmire, Messianic Predictions, Copyright 2005, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA; Thomas Ingmire, Ten Commandments, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA; Donald Jackson, The Word Made Flesh, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. 

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