Friday, November 07, 2014

A trip into the writing archives

During a meeting yesterday, a project designer we're working with mentioned the St. John's Bible as inspiration for a project we're working on. I remembered writing about in 2008 and he asked to see it. Searching through my writing archives was a lot of fun, so I'm sharing some works from that time. First up? The St. John's Bible story.

St. John's Bible illuminates the word of God for our time
By Wendy A. Hoke
UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS—St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., is essentially a train stop, a modern campus that marks time by the rhythm of the monks who call the abbey home.

Just an hour from the Twin Cities, it also is home to a spectacular work of art. For the first time in 500 years, the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey have collaborated on a handwritten and illuminated bible known as the St. John’s Bible.

If your summer travel plans don’t include a trip to the Twin Cities, you can head over to John Carroll University, where just inside the Grasselli Library is a copy of the Wisdom Books of the St. John’s Bible, a gift from Target Corp., in honor of retired Target Executive Vice President John Pellegrene, a North Canton native and John Carroll alumnus.

The oversized Bible is rich with imagery from a craft that dates to the ancient world, when manuscripts were on scrolls of papyrus, according to Joseph Kelly, professor of religious studies at John Carroll University. By the Eighth and Ninth centuries, Benedictine monasteries of the west, under the patronage of the Emperor Charlemagne, began writing and illuminating not just sacred works, but also secular works such as love songs.

Near the end of the Middle Ages, however, capitalism and the need for a literate public led to more widespread printing of books. Illuminated manuscripts were left to history.

But in the early 1970s, Donald Jackson—senior illuminator to the Queen of England’s Crown Office—appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show” where host Barbara Walters asked him about his life’s dream. His response? “I would like to write the Bible.”

Later he would describe his dream as, “The calligraphic artist’s supreme challenge (our Sistine Chapel), a daunting task.”

Sharing his life’s dream on national television brought him to the attention of St. John’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery with the largest collection of manuscripts in the world—10 million images and 2 million manuscripts, according to Craig Bruner, director of operations, The St. John’s Bible.

Jackson was the main attraction at the first calligraphy conference held at St. John’s in 1984. During an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, he reiterated his desire to write the Bible, something Abbey community kept in mind as the relationship between them continued.

In the mid-1990s, in preparation for a millennium project, Father Eric Hollas of St. John’s asked Jackson over lunch if he would make the word of God live on the page.

“Do you want it?” he asked.

The answer was unequivocally yes. Jackson and St. John’s Abbey would illuminate the St. John’s Bible—a celebration of books, the book arts and religion.

Video accounts on St. John’s Web site show Jackson using the ancient practice of preparing his Quill, stripping its feathers and mixing his inks with egg yolks for lasting color.

In March 2000, the first words were penned.

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,

And the Word was God.
Brother Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, describes the frontispiece as, “The word of God striding out of cosmic time into the world we live in.”

When complete in late 2009 or early 2010, the entire St. John’s Bible will comprise seven volumes—Pentateuch, Wisdom Books, Psalms, Prophets, Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, Historical Writings and Letters and Revelation, according to Bruner.

In all, the St. John’s Bible will contain 1,160 pages and 160 illuminations. While the originals will be housed at St. John’s on permanent exhibition, reproductions like the one at John Carroll will travel the world.

While the text is rooted in history, using ancient methods, it is also very much a product of its time, according to Kelly.

“When medieval scribes were writing and illuminating the Bible, they wrote and illuminated what they knew—flora, fauna and people around them,” says Bruner. “It was modern to them just as the illuminations in the St. John’s Bible reflect the flora, fauna and life of people today.”

In the opening to Matthew with the genealogy of Christ, the illuminations feature the double helix of DNA embedded in the manuscript. “That locates this work in the 21st century, because that’s when human genome project was completed,” says Bruner.

The books are more a work of art than scholarly text, but Bruner says the original will be used liturgically for Christmas, Easter, graduation and other major celebrations.
And there’s a hope the reproductions, which will make their way around the world, will ignite spiritual imaginations.

“We’re trying to make a statement about faith and the importance of art and imagination,” says Brother Reinhart in a video about the project. “The fact that there’s common ground for us to stand on in a world torn apart by violence and hatred and it’s to be found in the sacred texts that enliven and enrich all cultures on this planet.”

Visit for information, photos and video of the project.
Hoke is a freelance writer.

Materials used in the original St. John’s Bible

The original Bible is made on calfskin vellum, specifically prepared for writing. The reproductions are made on 100 percent cotton archival paper.

Inks used include lapis lazuli, 24-karat gold leaf and 100-year-old Chinese black inks made from candle soot.

The gold leaf is decades old and made by hammering pieces of gold flat until it is foil thickness. Calligraphers use a substance called gesso—white lead, fish glue and plaster—that they paint on and let it dry. Using a small tube in their mouth they blow on the gesso to warm it up and create a surface glue that they put the foil on. Using a burnisher, (a stone mounted on a wood handle) the calligrapher rubs the foil, making it permanent.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

If your birthday is today...

This year, you open up to new possibilities; you can manifest much of what you desire. Creativity marks your days, actions and words. Others simply enjoy working with you. Those in your personal life enjoy you more than ever. If you are attached, defer to your sweetie and remain sensitive to him or her. You could become quite me-oriented. A fellow Virgo can be like you used to be--nit-picky and critical.

VIRGO **** A New Moon in your sign allows a new beginning wherever you would like it. Charm, ingenuity and energy all mix to help you along. A partner who doesn't always get you wants to be helpful and tries at any costs. Tonight: Others respond to your wishes.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Seeing things differently

Reading "The Artist's Way Every Day: A Year of Creative Living," by Julia Cameron and found resonance in a portion of the entry for August 28th. Been meaning to share because I think it so aptly applies to writing.

"The creative journey is characterized not by a muzzy and hazy retreat from reality but by the continual sorting and reordering and structuring of reality into new forms and new relationships. As artists, we 'see things differently.' In part, this is because we are looking."

Friday, June 04, 2010

Life–at warp speed

It's the last day of school, a cause for celebration of the impending freedom that comes with summer. Yet I'm feeling the pull of life zipping me along at lightning speed. Isn't there any way to slow down this ship?

As of today, I am officially the mom of a senior in high school. What an exciting time for him! And yet he's also adjusting to the new world order. Last weekend he began work at his first job as a dishwasher at the Winking Lizard in Avon. We paid a visit to the bank to open up his first checking account now that he gets direct deposit (now that's a change from when I was a kid).

He listened carefully as the bank manager explained online banking, receiving his updates via text, his options with respect to new banking regulations (we opted to have his debit card declined when over the balance rather than suffer the cost of overdraft fees) and the responsibilities that come with a first checking account.

As we walked out of the bank, I told him he was a big boy now. He was suddenly very quiet. I asked what was wrong and he replied, "Life is suddenly moving very fast."

Wow! Yes. It. Is.

Ryan turns 18 in November, time to register to vote and for the draft. He's making decisions about his future--what career to pursue, what college to attend, whether or not to pursue playing football in college.

He's our first, so for better or worse, he's our guinea pig. Hopefully, we haven't done too badly by him. I know that I couldn't be more proud to be his mom. But in the quiet moments of the day I ponder pushing the pause button on life. Actually, it doesn't even have to stop, but I wish it could slow down. I just want to marinate for a while.

Another sign of the speed of life

Today, my parents are off on a month-long trip out West. They are both officially retired. My dad retired a year ago, but my mom just retired from MetroHealth on Wednesday. After years of angst about the security of their golden years, she has embraced the freedom. She called me Wednesday night, as giddy as a young girl at the prospects ahead. I couldn't be happier for them.

Safe journey, Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

My new mantra

"We cannot do great things on this earth. We can only do small things with great love." -- Mother Theresa