An Illuminated Bible for the Computer Age

  • Religion
  • 2011

The Saint John’s Bible, commissioned by the Benedictine fathers of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and funded by 1,500 donors, is a completely handwritten and hand-illuminated Bible. It is a glorious seven-volume work of art, each volume stretching two feet tall by three feet wide when open, and weighing 35 pounds. The text and images were inked with hand-ground pigments and platinum- and gold-leaf on pages made of calf-skin vellum.

Theologians selected passages for large-scale illustration. Computers scaled images and plotted line breaks. All calligraphy and illumination was crafted by hand in a scriptorium—Smithsonian magazine described the end product as “one of the extraordinary artistic undertakings of our time.” Goose, turkey, and swan quills were used for lettering. Mineral pigments were mixed with egg yolks and water to paint pages in vivid hues that will endure for centuries, as in medieval illuminated manuscripts.

Production extended over two decades and cost $8 million. To bring the Bible to a wide audience, trade books reproducing the seven volumes in a smaller format are being sold. The original work is touring churches, museums, and libraries around the world for in-person viewing of what Pope Benedict XVI called “a great work of art…a work for eternity.”

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