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The Saint John's Bible, Heritage Edition: Introduction

A guide to accessing the Heritage Edition of the Saint John's Bible in Archives & Special Collections

Illumination from the Saint John's Bible


Image Credit: Matthew 1:1-17, The Genealogy of Jesus, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved

Introductory Video

The Saint John's Bible Manuscript

The Saint John's Bible is a seven-volume handwritten, hand- illuminated manuscript. Using the materials and techniques of medieval manuscripts its illuminations create a modern theological statement about diversity and inclusion. The SJB blends Christian iconography with Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, Buddhist, and Native American symbols. It reconciles Christian values with contemporary science, and places technology and current events within the context of traditional biblical text.

The Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey in Minnesota commissioned Donald Jackson, the official scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, to create a handwritten Bible to celebrate the new millennium. The work took thirteen years to complete. With a team of 15 scribes and illuminators located on two continents, Jackson has created a Bible for the modern world.

Santa Clara University Archives & Special Collections has the Heritage Edition of the Saint John's Bible. The Heritage Edition is a life-size reproduction of the original Saint John's Bible that recreates the beauty of the original manuscript. Printed on 100% uncoated cotton paper, using state of the art offset lithographic technology, each volume is bound by hand, and includes hand-treated illuminations, making the Heritage Edition much more than just a fine print reproduction. Every Heritage Edition volume is signed by Donald Jackson.  The Archives & Special Collections Heritage Edition is No. 27 of only 299 copies. The seven-volume set was a generous gift of Mrs. Tita Diepenbrock.


Saint John's Bible Manuscript Facts

Timeline — In 1997, Donald Jackson proposed the idea to Br. Dietrich Reinhart, O.S.B., President of Saint John’s University. After a year of deliberation, the monks approved the project in 1998. The first words were written on Ash Wednesday, 2000, and the final word, “Amen,” penned on May 9, 2011.

Chronology of Books completed:
    May 2002:     Gospels and Acts completed
    August 2003: Pentateuch completed
    April 2004:     Psalms completed
    April 2005:     Prophets completed
    July 2006:     Wisdom Books completed
    March 2010:     Historical Books completed
    May 2011:     Letters and Revelation completed

Human Resources — 11 members of the Committee on Illumination and Text advised 15 scribes and illuminators. Each of the 1,165 pages took 7-13 hours to execute.

Cost — Initial estimates for the project were $3 million.  Ultimately, it would cost the abbey $8 million!  The names of all donors are inscribed in a hand-illuminated “Book of Honor” held at Saint John’s University.  Each of the 299 Heritage Editions costs roughly $165,000.

Vellum —  Vellum for the project came from Cowley’s in Wales.

Marginalia —  In addition to the illuminations and special text treatments, the marginalia of the Saint John’s Bible also contains small crosses marking verses quoted in the Rule of St. Benedict, details alluding to major donors funding each volume, small animals inserting forgotten lines into the text, and Chris Tomlin’s nature marginalia.  [For examples of these latter two, see Susan Sink, The Art of the Saint John’s Bible: The Complete Reader’s Guide, 339-342.]

Verses — Paragraph changes are marked by small colored “kites” alternating in 19th century vermilion water-color (red) and sky blue designer gouache as well as other colors; and the verse numbers appear in the margins. All other verse numbers appear in the line of text and are written with a smaller pen.

Script — The calligraphic script was specially designed for The Saint John’s Bible by Donald Jackson. Jackson sought to design a script that would have “Speed – flexibility – juice.”  Letters are written in lamp black ink from 19th century Chinese stick inks made from carbon.

Script size —The small letters are about two millimeters tall. The height of the script is directly proportionate to the size of the quill.

Columns — Each page has two 4 ¾” columns of script. Columns are justified on the left and the right. There are 54 lines per column, and an average of 10.5 words per line.