Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible

Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible


(ethereal music) – [Anne] We now have a box
of Kleenex in the gallery because people have,
in many instances, a physical, visceral reaction. – [Maureen] We’re
part of a world tour, and we are very, very grateful
to have been selected. – Saint John’s
Bible is the exhibit called Illuminating the Word, a 68 original folios
of the project, The Saint John’s Bible,
the first hand-illuminated, hand-calligraphied Bible commissioned by Benedictine
monastery in 500 years. The collection of pages
covers the Old Testament and the New Testament, and was developed and
worked on by 25 artists, calligraphers, and artisans
from around the world. The Saint John’s Abbey
commissioned the Bible from the Queen’s
calligrapher, Donald Jackson, who put together a team
of experts, artisans, craftspeople to work on the
project over a period of time to develop the artwork, the
script, the information, and the tools needed to
reproduce a medieval manuscript, but one designed
in the 21st century for 21st century people. (ethereal music) – It has been lots of
work, a labor of love for many, many years. It actually started back in 2010 when one of my volunteers said, “You have got to
get this exhibit “of the Saint John’s
Bible prints,” and I couldn’t imagine
anything duller but I decided yeah,
let’s go ahead. It’s been four years
of committee work starting with some plain
negotiating the contract to a facilities check, make sure that we would be able
to have the right lighting, the security that’s
needed, the do’s and help, all of those things,
and that took time, as well as all the programming
throughout the community that has been developed that does not happen overnight. – So what they did was they
scraped off their black, and they mixed with
two substances. I started following the project, and keeping up to date on it, and when I have had
opportunity to talk about it, or lecture on it, or teach
around it, I’ve jumped to that because this is the
project that, for me, really makes a lot of
those heritage crafts like calligraphy,
like illumination,
like cutting a quilt makes those crafts
real and valid. Calligraphy comes from the
Greek word beautiful writing, and it’s not handwriting. If you look at my handwriting, it looks like a beetle crawled
across the page and died. Calligraphy is the combination
of thick and thin strokes creating an interplay
of dark and light, and delivering words or
messages that we read as text. Illumination is
the adding of gold in its simplest sense. So you’ll see
gold, 24-karat gold is widely used throughout the
Saint John’s Bible project to represent the divine,
and that’s the power, one of the powers of
the Saint John’s Bible is the pages are big, so people can gather
around in community and talk and listen
and say to one another, “I see such and such, “but I see such and such.” So they can share and
learn from one another, so it becomes a community
sharing and learning device. And in our modern
world of social media, and firing off angry
Twitter messages, this becomes part
of almost a lost art of building community, of
learning from one another, of letting our
imaginations go wild. (ethereal music) The text on a page took
anywhere from seven to 13 hours for a calligrapher. The illumination, it was
a process on the front end on what was their
illumination gonna look like, and that was a collaboration
between a committee and the artists, and that
process could take months of going backwards and forwards,
and informing each other, and coming up with
a final image. And then putting pigments
and gold to vellum could take a couple of hours, in most cases, a couple of days. – Here we have that he says
that you shall bear a son, and his name shall be Immanuel. – The Dawsons are
trained tour guides. These are people
who have volunteered
their time and talent to get training from Ma’am Kaese to learn everything
they can to do research, and to ask a lot of questions,
and to be hosts, really, so that the Bible
is never left alone, and can never be unsecured, and so, there is somebody
present at all times that the building is open,
and we have the opportunity to tell the visitors
a little bit more about what is there
to see in here, what’s the big hunk
and deal about this. If you just give a
visitor a few hints, watch for this, watch for that, then they will go
and have experienced each of the artworks themselves. – One of the missions behind
the Saint John’s Bible was that of social justice, how do we recognize people that have traditionally
been pushed to the margins of society, so whether it’s women,
refugees, children, one of the missions
behind the Bible was recognizing the value
those communities have placed historically and socially. So you’ll find links to
things that are unexpected like the illumination on
the family tree of Christ. If you read the biblical
text, it’s male-dominated but in the Saint John’s
Bible illumination, we have the men and
the women referenced. The most common comment
has been I’m coming back. The second most common comment
has been I’m coming back, and I’m bringing somebody else. And then people say things
like how amazing is it that we did this in
the 21st century.

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