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.
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:
7 Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
[I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.]
8 I preferred her to scepters and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.
As with the library’s earlier “Correction Lemur” display, The text in brackets is missing. Remember that 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.
In this illumination, Wisdom appears as a woman, reflected in a hand mirror with moon-inscribed frame and cosmic elements in the corners. The reference is to chapter 7 of Wisdom of Solomon: “For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God.” Solomon prayed to God to send Wisdom to help him, and eternal Wisdom will attend Solomon and help him with his work.
Wisdom’s image is based on a photograph of a Palestinian woman, and is according to Susan Sink the only image inspired by an actual human face other than Adam and Eve. (The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 2, p. 37). The image was silk-screened onto the original vellum multiple times — at least four — in an “unforgiving” process (Sink, p. 37) that gives the artist a single chance to get things right. The two-page nature of the image made the arrangement much more difficult.
Sink describes Wisdom Woman’s face as “perfect:”
The crow’s feet around her eyes and the sparkle in those eyes emit more joy than her slight smile suggests. Like Wisdom, she is full of light. She has squinted into the sun, and she has looked hard at life, and she has laughed. The lines on her forehead show she has worried and given her full attention to the task at hand. Her smile is knowing, somewhat secretive, but also intimate — she will tell us her secret if we ask. (p. 38)
Take a closer look at the mirror’s round frame and you will notice another reference to the feminine, in the depiction of the moon’s 28-day cycle. The paintings in the mirror’s four corners are based on images from the Hubble telescope. The “wisdom tree” stamp in the margins, based on a piece of cloth from India that was embroidered and appliquéd with mirrors, appears throughout the Wisdom books and has been seen in previous displays such as Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Revelation Frontispiece.
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.
In the Bible, Esther is an Israelite orphan who becomes queen at a young age and then collaborates with her uncle and a foreign king to foil the plans of a man who would destroy her people. This beautiful design expresses many aspects of the story of Esther in a small space. We see Esther’s dual identity in the “split screen” depiction of her face and environment. On the right is the beautiful Israelite and the menorah representing her heritage. On the left she wears her queenly headdress and other regalia, and sumptuous tapestries surround her. In The Art of The Saint John’s Bible Susan Sink reports
Although [these images] are not based on the period in the story, they are taken from pieces in the region that are marks of royalty and weddings. Esther’s queenship is marked by finery and “cosmetic” treatments, crowned by a gold figure of the lion of Babylon and by rich Persian rugs. The images on the left side of the illumination are inspired by Turkmen (Afghan) traditional bridal gifts and ancient Persian gold artifacts such as coins, jewelry, and textiles.(Vol. 3, p. 68)
Sink further notes, “The face of Queen Esther…is based on a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt.” Bloch-Bauer was Klimt’s patroness, married at age 18 to a man 17 years older. By using Adele as his model, artist Donald Jackson alludes to the existence of such “May-December” marriages throughout history (Sink, vol. 3, p. 67).
Hanging at the lower left we see what happened to the treacherous official, named Haman; the image is apparently based on images of public executions in Saudi Arabia and is intended to cause viewers to reflect on the presence of violence and war in current events (Sink, vol. 3, p. 68).
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us…” (Isaiah 9:6)
According to the publishers of The Saint John’s Bible, “The most important messianic verses are Isaiah 7:14-17, Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7 and Isaiah 11:1-9. From the earliest of times, Christians have seen these messianic verses as having a direct reference to Christ. Isaiah’s prophecies have had an enduring influence on Western Civilization. The Christmas carol, Lo How a Rose ere Blooming, was inspired by Isaiah 11:1-3. Handel used Isaiah 9:6-7 for one of the great choral sections of the Messiah.
“Artist Thomas Ingmire fills this text treatment with explosive energy, color and radiating gold. Familiar gilded phrases burst out of the foundational text: Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Everlasting Peace, Immanuel God is With Us, For Unto Us a Child is Born, Halleluiah!—all prophesizing the coming of our savior. Blues, greens and yellows suggest Marian connections since devotion to the “Blessed Virgin Mother” finds part of its scriptural basis in Isaiah 7.”
Returning to the connection with Handel’s Messiah, Susan Sink says, “This illumination is crowned with Hallelujahs! You can almost see the trumpets raised and blasting with the announcement.” (The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 2, p. 62) Note also the intricate gold stamp, which we have seen in many recent display illuminations, adding to the celebratory effect.
The Jewish “Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah, ends tomorrow night (Thursday, Dec. 5). A menorah (although not the type pictured here) figures prominently in Hanukkah celebrations, and so the library has chosen this illumination for our next display. It illustrates the story of God’s covenant with Abraham, in which God promises that Abraham and Sarah’s descendents will number as the stars. The menorahs become family trees, with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel among the branches at the top of the page and Abraham and Sarah’s names at the bottom.
In the night sky behind the family tree / menorahs, we see flashes of gold as the stars come out. You might also recognize the delicate lacy mandalas that accompanied night stars in another recent image: the Birth of Christ. So connections are made from one Saint John’s Bible image to another, and to all religions using mandalas in their worship.
Writer Susan Sink calls our attention to the black and grey figure to the bottom-right of the largest menorah, seeing in it “the sacrificial ram” which substitutes for Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son, whom God commanded Abraham to sacrifice in a test of his obedience. (Art of The Saint John’s Bible, Vol. 1, p. 24)
A note about the menorahs: Hanukkah celebrates a period in which a small amount of lantern oil lasted for 8 nights, much longer than expected. Hanukkah menorahs therefore hold a candle for each of those nights, with a ninth central candle used to light the others.
Advent began on Sunday Dec. 1. Christmas is coming, and the celebration of the birth of Jesus. UP’s Office of Campus Ministry is holding a Visio Divina prayer service on Wednesday Dec. 4 from 7:15 to 8:00 p.m. in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher, at which the Birth of Christ illumination will be displayed to inspire a “prayerful entry into the Advent season.”
In The Art of The Saint John’s Bible, Susan Sink says “The revelation of the divine is seen in the shaft of gold coming from the manger, into which peer Mary, shepherds, and one of the kings. [They have] expressions of awe and wonder, and [...Mary has a] wise smile.” (Vol. 1, p. 76)
She further notes ties to other illuminations; for example, the angels come from the Jacob’s Ladder illumination. Together with the vertical shaft of light, they make the figure of the cross, reminding us that the crucifixion is tied to the birth.
Turn your attention to the large ox. Modeled on the Neolithic cave paintings of great aurochs at Lascaux, France, it ties the illumination to traditional Christian art. Sink says, “Medieval manuscripts are often stamped or illustrated with these figures…Luke [is] an ox.” In Illuminating the Word: The Making of The Saint John’s Bible, Donald Jackson adds “The bull expresses the vitality and power of earthly life, as well as the humble circumstances of Christ’s birth. It contrasts with the ethereal wonder of the flying angels and heavenly light descending into the world.”
Happy Thanksgiving! As this chameleon appears to be giving thanks for the existence of flies, so we now enter into the season of giving thanks for all of our blessings, and of enjoying the fruits of the harvest.
The Saint John’s Bible contains many images of animal life: the butterfly wings in the Jacob’s Ladder illumination and Ecclesiastes frontispiece, and the coral snake and harlequin shrimp in the Garden of Eden illumination, are just a few examples from the art that has been on display in the library so far.
This chameleon enlivens the last page in the Historical Books volume, at the end of 2 Maccabees. A few words for the benefit of people not familiar with the Bible: 1 and 2 Maccabees relate the history of Israel, as do the other historical books, but they are available in Greek manuscripts only and are therefore part of the “deuterocanon,” i.e. “second canon,” not traditionally part of the Jewish or Protestant collections of Old Testament literature. They do appear in Orthodox or Catholic collections, however, and thus are included in The Saint John’s Bible. While some Bibles place the 7 deuterocanonical books between the Old and New Testaments, The Saint John’s Bible arranges them according to their placement in the Catholic version of the Old Testament.
The chameleon’s presence has a fanciful origin, according to Susan Sink in The Art of The Saint John’s Bible. Like many writers, the author of 2 Maccabees had difficulty writing a conclusion to his story. Note that in his final verses he announces the story’s end twice:
 This, then, is how matters turned out with Nicanor. And from that time the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I too will here end my story.
 If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do.
 For just as it is harmful to drink wine alone, or, again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment, so also the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work. And here will be the end.
“Given such a playful and colorful ending,” says Sink, “Donald Jackson could not resist including one more image.” (vol. 3, p.71) Enjoy, and best wishes for a restful Thanksgiving vacation.
Angels ascend and descend a golden ladder, dwarfing a blue human figure. God is making contact with the figure, Jacob, and through him continuing the covenant that began with Abraham and Isaac, renaming him Israel and promising that Jacob’s sons will lead the 12 tribes of Israel.
In Illuminating the Word: The Making of the Saint John’s Bible, Christopher Calderhead quotes Donald Jackson: “I wanted [this vision] to be surreal, shining things and light, with dawn about to break.” (p. 165). Calderhead further reports that this illumination represents artistic integrity. The Committee on Illumination and Text, which provided Jackson with theological and historical background for each illumination, had
mentioned in passing a common monastic image from the Middle Ages — the Ladder of Perfection, depicting monks mounting upwards toward their heavenly goal as some fall to their doom. They compared this admonitory image to the Jacob story. (p. 165)
According to this view of the story, some angels would fall while others rose to heaven, but Jackson “stuck to his guns” and decided that the story was not about separating the good from the bad, but rather a moment when heaven and earth were momentarily joined.
The butterflies are an apt analogy for angels, Jackson felt, because of their “enormous rarity! They are beautiful, full of grace, and very mysterious…You bat your eyelid and the butterfly is gone” — a fleeting vision, just as Jacob’s vision was momentary. Moreover, “[Butterflies] have such life-will…their incredible fragility contrasts with the thousands of miles they travel on their yearly migrations.” (p. 166)
The lacy pattern of gold against which the butterflies appear is a textile print, acrylic medium applied to a crocheted material.
Proverbs 9 begins, “Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars.” That verse is unfortunately not visible on this page, but we do see Wisdom’s pillars, of varying heights and widths. Fabric and lace render marble veins, and each pillar is topped with a pearl (of wisdom?), “a precious thing of beauty created by mysterious processes,” suggests Susan Sink in The Art of the Saint John’s Bible, vol. 2, p. 24. The pearls appear to have descended from the stamp just about them, with an echo in the swirling clouds — the same stamp we saw in the Revelation Frontispiece, based on a piece of cloth from India that was embroidered and appliquéd with mirrors.
The chapter continues, “She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.” Note that the artist has provided a set table, spread with wine but bread substitutes for meat. This and verse 5 of the chapter, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed,” could be seen as a connection between Wisdom and Christ, in making the viewer think of Christ’s invitation to “take this bread” and “drink this wine, and the fellowship of the Eucharistic prayer (Sink, vol. 3, p. 25).
A whole village of buildings appears to sprout from one of the pillars, including apparently a “monochromatic green drawing of the dome of the church at Saint Benedict’s Monastery (Sink, vol. 3, p. 24),” a sister site to Saint John’s Monastery. This also is echoed in the passage’s next verse: “She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town.” Faint architectural images vanish into the clouds above; wisdom remains while man’s creations subside.
For all engaged in life-long learning and dedicated to a mindful life, Proverbs 9:6 is especially apt: “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”