Saint John’s Bible


The Clark Library is proud to exhibit a Heritage Edition of the Saint John's Bible, the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible to have been commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press. The Heritage Edition uses special ink, paper, and printing techniques to replicate the original Saint John's Bible. Only 299 Heritage Editions were produced, and ours is the only one in the state of Oregon. Many thanks to Allen and Kathie Lund and Family, who donated the Bible to the University.


Raising of Lazarus. Artist: Donald Jackson.

Raising of Lazarus illumination

Click to enlarge.

The “Raising of Lazarus” illumination from John 11 will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, March 25, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:00 p.m. (60 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center.

In this illumination the viewer is in the tomb with Lazarus, among the death’s-head moths and golden angels, and the lace of Lazarus’ shroud (created from prints of actual lace). We look out as if through a tunnel of light (perhaps representing descriptions of near-death experiences), where Jesus awaits. Lazarus is upright, appearing to begin to rise and exit. Dominating the illumination are the words, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

In The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 1, p. 96, Susan Sink says

It is this miracle that will start Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the crucifixion, the real triumph of light over darkness, life over death. But here we stand with Lazarus poised on the edge of death and life and contemplate our own faith.

Demands of Social Justice. Artist: Suzanne Moore.

Demands of Social Justice Illumination

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The “Demands of Social Justice” illumination from Amos 4 will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, March 18, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:00 p.m. (60 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center.

Commenting on this illumination, local (Vashon Island, WA) artist Suzanne Moore has said, “it is about choice, the alternatives of light and dark, obedience and disobedience…human responsibility for our own destiny as we respond to God’s promises.” (quoted by Susan Sink in The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 2, p. 83)

In this passage in Amos, says Sink, God laments that despite all He has done to try to draw Israel back into His blessings, Israel does not return. Those attempts are listed: famine; drought; blight, mildew, and locusts; pestilence, war, and defeat. The refrain is the same each time: “Yet you did not return to me.” This refrain unites the seven pieces of the illumination, seven pieces as in the Creation but fragmented and chaotic, not bountiful and organized. “This is a reminder,” says Sink,

…that God did not just try to turn the people’s hearts with plagues and punishments, but first tried to draw them close with all the beauty, order and fruitfulness of the Garden. It is the people’s choice not to follow God that has made creation this way. (p. 84)

On the right-hand side of the page, a vaguely menacing creature (a locust?) hovers over the text.

Transfiguration. Donald Jackson with contributions from Aidan Hart.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The Transfiguration illumination from Mark 9 will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, March 4, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:00 p.m. (60 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center. Campus Ministry’s Interactive Lenten Calendar provided this prompt in 2014:

[...]As we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus is transfigured as a sign of his divine origin. The apostles Peter, James, and John are witnesses to it. Peter, in his zeal, seeks to build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but before he knows it, the vision vanishes. In our lives, too, we have glimpses of the Lord. We experience great consolations. We see the love of God at work in the world, in our lives, in prayer, and, most profoundly, in relationships. At times, we see God’s presence most palpably in these contexts. Just as the disciples, however, we are sent down the mountain. As much as we would enjoy staying in the vision to enjoy God’s presence, we are sent back to the valley. We are sent back among others.[...]

As with the Life in Community illumination, iconographer Aidan Hart created the images of Elijah and Moses. Drawing on iconographic tradition, Hart gives Moses two tablets to hold as a symbol of his identity. His and Elijah’s ordinary garments contrast with Jesus’ vestments and serve as pieces of a frame, along with the mottled blue sky and purple earth. The “dazzling white” of the passage is rendered here by a swarm of white crosses, setting Jesus apart from his companions. Likewise, Elijah and Moses’ detailed facial features identify them as men, while Jesus is both present and not present in his incomplete appearance. The gold cross behind him recalls the illumination illustrating his birth, as well as his crucifixion.

Suffering Servant. Artist: Donald Jackson.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The “Suffering Servant” illumination from Isaiah will be featured in Visio Divina sessions on Wednesday, February 25, at 12:45 p.m. (30 minutes) and 7:00 p.m. (60 minutes) in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. This Lenten prayer opportunity is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Garaventa Center. Campus Ministry’s Interactive Lenten Calendar provides this commentary:

The Prophets describe a coming Messiah who will restore peace and justice to Israel, yet he will be despised by the wicked and bear their sins quietly. Thus, he is called the Suffering Servant. In Jackson’s image, an emaciated prisoner stands above the head of a lamb, referencing the text in which the Messiah endures his tormenters with grace, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7). The shadow of a modern chain link fence surrounds the Servant, drawing a parallel between the Messiah’s suffering and that of victims of suffering in today’s world. But just as the figure stands alone in Jackson’s image, so the Suffering Servant will one day be singled out by God to reign in Zion.

Regarding the chain link fence, Susan Sink in The Art of The Saint John’s Bible specifies, “This image was taken from pictures of the fence around Guantanamo Bay, Cuba…The confinement closer to the figure suggests the narrow bars of the Door of No Return at Elmina Castle in Ghana, the passage through which Africans were taken onto ships, bound for slavery in the New World.” (vol. 2, p. 68)

“Correction Lemur” in 2 Chronicles 11. Artist: Chris Tomlin.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

An upcoming presentation on Whimsy and Humor in The Saint John’s Bible will likely include this image, previously presented on this blog in January 2014.

A ring-tailed lemur swings on vines adjacent to a passage, the first lines of 2 Chronicles 11. The text reads:

2 “But the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah the man of God: 3 “Say to [King Rehoboam of Judah, Son of Solomon, and to] all Israel in Judah and Benjamin, 4 ‘Thus says the Lord: You shall not go up or fight against your kindred. Let everyone return home, for this thing is from me.’ So they heeded the word of the Lord and turned back from the expedition against Jeroboam.”

The text in brackets is missing. In the original Saint John’s Bible, written in ink on vellum, the scribe could scrape off a faulty stroke or character, but each page of the Bible took 7 to 10 hours to write and so missing lines of text were a bigger issue. The Bible artists solved the problem in a whimsical way, by recruiting animals to lift the missing line into place. Take a look at the display page; the missing line appears at the bottom of the page, and the lemur’s vines have snared it. The vine in the lemur’s right hand traces the correct location for the missing text.

Artist Chris Tomlin, who studied natural history illustration at the Royal College of Art in London, drew many botanical and animal images for The Saint John’s Bible, some of which appeared in previous images on this blog, such as the chameleon at the end of 2 Maccabees, the butterflies on Jacob’s Ladder, and the coral snake and other animals in the Garden of Eden / Adam and Eve illumination. This ring-tailed lemur from Madagascar is the favorite of several library staff.

“Correction Bumblebee” in Wisdom 7. Artist: Chris Tomlin.

Correction Bee in Wisdom of Solomon cropped

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An upcoming presentation on Whimsy and Humor in The Saint John’s Bible will likely include this image, previously presented on this blog in March 2014.

A bee works a pulley next to verses from Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 7 — verses referencing the Wisdom Woman illumination previously on display. The text reads:

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
[I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.]
I preferred her to scepters and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.

The text in brackets is missing. In the original Saint John’s Bible, written in ink on vellum, the scribe could scrape off a faulty stroke or character, but each page of the Bible took 7 to 10 hours to write and so missing lines of text were a bigger issue. The Bible artists solved the problem in a whimsical way, by recruiting animals to lift the missing line into place. Take a look at the display page; the missing line appears at the bottom of the page, and the bee has enclosed it in a box tied with a rope running through a pulley. The pulley’s top wheel, and a tiny arrow, mark the correct location for the missing text. The other two wheels help to guide your eye along the ropes to the passage.

Sarah Harris and Donald Jackson designed the pulley system based on Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical drawings. Artist Chris Tomlin, who studied natural history illustration at the Royal College of Art in London, drew many botanical and animal images for The Saint John’s Bible, some of which appeared in previous images on this blog, such as the lemur, the chameleon at the end of 2 Maccabees, the butterflies on Jacob’s Ladder, and the coral snake and other animals in the Garden of Eden / Adam and Eve illumination.

Luke Anthology. Artists: Donald Jackson, with contributions by Aidan Hart and Sally Mae Joseph..

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

This is an illumination that deserves lengthy contemplation, as each diagonal stripe in the left-hand side of the page contains images from 5 parables in the book of Luke: “The Lost Coin” (15:8-10); “The Lost Sheep” (15:4-7); “The Good Samaritan” (10:29-37); “The Lost Son” (15:11-32); and “Lazarus and Dives” (16:19-31).

In the upper corner, the moon-like coin and the sheep turned toward the light represent the repenting sinner, and the golden angels rejoice in each act of contrition. Meanwhile in the lower corner a father brings his best cloak to welcome a wandering son with tears of forgiveness, and Dives agonizes in Hell while angels sing Lazarus to his rest in Abraham’s arms. Abraham is identified by Hebrew letters. The father’s cloak, Lazarus’s angels, and Dives’s arm all point to a powerful symbol of the challenge of forgiving evil: the Twin Towers.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

On the right we see Mary and Martha clad in mirror-embellished and embroidered fabrics, listening to Jesus perhaps tell a parable. The words on this page read “There is need of only one thing” (Luke 10:42), and that one thing is to listen. Susan Sink explains:

Martha stands in her apron with hands on hips and looks impatient, but at the same time she is, like her sister seated beside her, also gazing at the Lord. Martha and Mary are two sides of love and care, two images of hospitality, a value that is central to the Benedictine tradition. (Art of The Saint John’s Bible, Vol. 1, p. 81)

Filling spaces between diagonals and borders are elements from a mandala, meant according to Donald Jackson “to suggest the way the mind and intelligence work to interpret and understand concepts, like teasing out the meaning of parables and applying them to our contemporary lives.” (Ibid., p. 84)

Ruth and Naomi. Artist: Suzanne Moore.

Ruth and Naomi

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A woman and her mother-in-law embrace and gaze at a landscape of rolling green and yellow hills and colorful dwellings. “Their future” says Susan Sink (Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 3, p. 31), as their current situation is bleak. They are two widows, Ruth and Naomi, and one of them is an outsider. But thanks to their love for each other, and God’s favor toward them, they will thrive. Ruth’s attentions to her mother-in-law will attract her second husband and she will produce a son, the father of King David.

But for the moment they survive through Ruth’s gleaning. She follows harvesters to steal a grain and perhaps a stray stalk here and there, an occupation that lasts only during the gathering time and that places Ruth at risk of being harassed by the men in the fields. On the facing page we see Ruth standing proudly with her basket.

Sink draws our attention to several motifs on the page, such as the stamped motif sparkling around Ruth and Naomi’s heads in both images, representing cosmic order to the universe and especially God’s miraculous provision for the two widows. And the basket of plenty, which Sink describes as

…more than a basket of grain. It seems to speak to the abundance and fertility at the center of her being, an extension of her swirling skirts. Barrenness and God’s promises will play a role in [several stories in the Bible]. The parallels are rich.

The image of Ruth and Naomi has parallels also in other Saint John’s Bible images, such as (says Sink) the portrait of Mary and Martha in the Luke Anthology. Come to the UP Authors event next Thursday 10/9 from 3:00 to 4:30 to examine this and other images up close.

Out of the Whirlwind, 3: He Will Wipe Every Tear. Artist: Thomas Ingmire.

Out of the Whirlwind 3, from Job

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Interested in a puzzle? Clark Library has learned that recently an 8-year-old girl found a mistake in this illumination, which appears on the last page of Job. Library staff have not yet found it. If you find it, please point it out!

This illumination has three layers and according to Susan Sink is structured similarly to the Messianic Predictions illumination in Prophets, also by Thomas Ingmire, “with strings of words like trumpet blasts.” (The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 2, p. 20) First, sentences seemingly clipped from newspaper articles report on all that Job has lost. In reply, Job states, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” And finally, the illumination’s foundation offers comfort:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more;
for the first things have passed away.

Joshua Anthology. Artist: Donald Jackson, with contributions by Thomas Ingmire.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

This illumination appears at the beginning of the book of Joshua, which reminds the reader that Moses did not reach the Promised Land and that Joshua took up the task of leading the Israelites out of the wilderness across the Jordan River. Their progress toward the distant green valley is symbolized by a parade of fragments from the Ten Commandments illumination, and by a gold arched stamp representing the Ark of the Covenant. Hazards encumber their journey: the river is filled with drowned bodies; lions watch from the cliff tops; a scarab beetle seems to want to lead them in the wrong direction. Spiritual temptations threaten: you will recognize the golden calf and an Egyptian eye signifying the false gods of Egypt.

Donald Jackson also represented Egypt in the illumination’s border, taking the design “from a frieze on an Egyptian burial tomb.” (Susan Sink, The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 3, p. 14)

For this final blog post of the 2013-2014 academic year, as we send best wishes to UP graduates, the library is pleased to provide a reflection on this illumination from Theology professor Michael Cameron:

Each of us over the course of a lifetime hears, speaks, reads, and writes millions of words. From somewhere deep within they well up to help us in ways both ordinary and extraordinary, from making a grocery list to comforting a dying parent. From that same deep reservoir of human words God’s covenant drew a special few to express divine love, to teach truth, and to blaze a trail of wisdom. In order to learn and obey God’s will, while Israel was forbidden to fashion images of God they were commanded to know words of God. No wonder that Jewish tradition through the ages has seen the Ten Commandments (literally in Hebrew, “the Ten Words”) as little glowing lanterns of God’s presence (see Psalm 119). But becoming “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22) was and is an enormous challenge. Entering the Promised Land under Joshua, the people formed by God’s wisdom were tossed by huge waves of temptation that threatened to drown the words of the covenant, especially the words forbidding love for other gods. In our world of endless texts and tweets and wooing words of enticement, what waves still batter the covenant commands about faithful love?