Central Texas welcomes tour of beautiful Bible
By Carla L. Smith
“Smithsonian Magazine” calls the Saint John’s Bible “one of the extraordinary undertakings of our time,” and it has come to the Diocese of Austin. Through this historic undertaking, the Scriptures are brought to life in the first handwritten and illuminated Bible in more than 500 years.
It’s all courtesy of Ascension Texas’ “Year with The Saint John’s Bible,” which is currently making its way across Central Texas at various Seton Health Care locations. Seton is a part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, and is proud to bring this historic document to its patrons and the general public as a whole.
“As Chief Mission Officer for Ascension Texas, I am most proud of this investment and for our gracious donors for providing our associates, physicians, volunteers, guests, board members and community the opportunity of a lifetime to personally engage with God’s holy word,” said Jonathan Ford.
Created by Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, the project was led by Donald Jackson, Senior Scribe to the Queen of England. Jackson oversaw six calligraphers and a large creative team during the project, which took more than 20 years to complete. Special care was taken as 1,150 pages of the Bible were handwritten on 300 sheets of calfskin vellum. More than 160 major illuminations are included, virtually bringing the text to life in a contemporary and approachable manner. As this masterpiece in art and biblical scholarship took shape, the calligrapher from Wales and Benedictine monks from Minnesota worked tirelessly to bring together the ancient techniques of calligraphy and illumination, resulting in a living document and monumental achievement.
“The Bible is the calligraphic artist’s supreme challenge,” Jackson said. “The continuous process of remaining open and accepting of what may reveal itself through hand and heart on a crafted page is the closest I have ever come to God.”
The illumination of text is a very tedious, expensive and time-consuming process and has been around for thousands of years. An illuminated manuscript is one in which text is supplemented with adornments like initials, borders and illustrations. If strictly defining it, illumination must include gold or silver. Historically, it was reserved for special books such as an altar Bibles and the “Book of Hours” for the wealthy.
The oldest surviving illuminated transcripts were produced by the Eastern Roman Empire, which proved both historical and educational as they made writings available to the illiterate. In the early Middle Ages, most books were produced in monasteries and, had it not been for those early scribes, most Greek and Roman literature would have perished in Europe if not for the monastic tribes and their works. During the Romanesque period, huge illuminated Bibles were created, one so big in Sweden that it requires three people to lift.
Just as illuminated Bibles of the past reflected their times, so it is with The Saint John’s Bible and the 21st century tools used to produce it. Double helix DNA strands adorn the family tree of Jesus, bursts of light with fractal edges celebrate the birth of the universe, and microscopic images of disease draw our attention to the needs of the world’s suffering. Each page is a work of art.
“The artistic imagery on each page draws the reader directly into the scriptural messages,” Ford said. “As pages are turned daily, I find myself not only exploring the new message and images, but also collecting a few pics on my phone to share with my wife at the end of each day.”
The Bible consists of approximately 200 unique editions on display at various selected sites nationwide. Ascension Texas will display the Heritage Edition of The Acts that consists of some of the most inspiriting illuminations and genealogy of Jesus, including The Loaves and Fishes, The Crucifixion, and many others.
Bringing the Bible to Central Texas began two years ago when Jim Triggs from St. Johns visited Austin and the Catholic Physicians Guild. Carl McQueary of Ascension Texas Ministry Market met with him and the two discussed the Bible. McQueary visited St. John’s University and said seeing the actual Saint John’s Bible was “life changing.”
“To realize the amount of work, talent and foresight that it took to produce this work of art that so emphasizes Jesus and our Catholic traditions was both amazing and humbling,” he said.
Getting on the schedule wasn’t easy but the process proved a popular endeavor and became a diocesan and Ascension Texas objective.
“We are the only Catholic faith-based, not-for-profit health care provider in Central Texas,” McQueary said. “It is our faith and mission that separates us from the for-profit health care sector and getting the Saint John’s Bible is an extension of that faith.”
Each month this year, the volume will be on public display at 12 different Ascension Texas sites. All facilities have sacred spaces such as chapels, healing gardens, labyrinths, and tranquility rooms, and the viewings are free of charge and open to the public.
The Saint John’s Bible (which has already visited sites in Austin and Luling) will be at the following locations for the remaining months of this year:
March – Seton Medical Center in Austin
April – Providence Medical Center in Waco
May – Seton Northwest in Austin
June – Seton Highland Lakes in Burnet
July – Seton Medical Center Williamson in Round Rock
August – Dell Seton Medical Center at UT in Austin
September – Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin
October – Seton Medical Center Hays in Kyle
November – Seton Regional Hospital in Smithville
December – Seton Southwest in Austin
For information call (512) 324-5829 or visit www.seton.net.