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First Handwritten Bible in 500 Years on View at Tacoma Art Museum
Donald Jackson, with Andrew Jamieson and Sally Mae Joseph, "To the Ends of the Earth." (c) 2002 The Saint John's Bible, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John's University.

TACOMA, WA.- Tacoma Art Museumís exhibition Illuminating the Word: The Saint Johnís Bible features the ornamented pages from the first handwritten Bible commissioned since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago. The Saint Johnís Bible will be on view Saturday, July 12, through Sunday, September 7, 2008. Throughout the length of the exhibition, Tacoma Art Museum will remain open until 8 pm every Thursday to better accommodate the volume of visitors expected for the exhibition of this remarkable undertaking. (Free admission will only be offered on Free Third Thursdays.)

Commissioned by Saint Johnís Abbey and Saint Johnís University in Collegeville , Minn. , The Saint Johnís Bible is a contemporary work created in the tradition of handwritten medieval manuscripts. Donald Jackson, scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, serves as artistic director of the project. Since 2000, artists and scribes primarily based in Wales have used goose-feather quills, vellum sheets created from calf skin, and hand-ground paints from precious minerals and metals such as lapis lazuli, vermilion, malachite, silver, copper, and twenty-four-karat gold to write and illuminate the pages. The Saint Johnís Bible embraces the medieval materials and processes used in creating handwritten Bibles, but the text is based on the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a modern English translation (instead of the traditional Latin). It highlights the interplay between sacred text and inspired imagery.

ďThe Saint Johnís Bible is a particularly apt pairing with one of our other exhibitions on view at the same time, The Forty Part Motet,Ē said Tacoma Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich . ďBoth are connected by their spiritual content, but more importantly, the two take something sacred from history and reexamine it through a modern lens. The Saint Johnís Bible is a masterpiece of calligraphy and a showcase of contemporary illumination.Ē

Theologians from Saint Johnís Abbey and Saint Johnís University and the College of Saint Benedict, SJUís sister institution, to provide Jackson with theological briefs that directed the interpretation of scripture for the illustrations. Working with consultants from other faiths, the team designed illuminations to reflect the contemporary multicultural world, incorporating imagery from Eastern and Western religious traditions and Native American cultures, as well as humanityís strides in science and technology.

For example, illuminations throughout Psalms show artistic renderings of digital voice prints of Saint Johnís monks chanting the psalms intersected with digital voice prints of calls to prayer in Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Sufi, and Native American traditions. Earth as seen from outer space accompanies the story of creation in the Pentateuch, and an image of the Twin Towers illustrates forgiveness in the Gospel parable of the Prodigal Son.

Tacoma Art Museumís presentation of The Saint Johnís Bible focuses on three of the seven sections of the Bible: Gospel and Acts (completed May 2002), the Pentateuch (completed August 2003), and Psalms (completed April 2004). The exhibition also features sacred texts from non-Christian religions, original artist sketches, and a worktable from the scriptorium displaying materials such as quills, hand-ground pigments, gold leaf, calfskin vellum, and ancient inks from China .

The full project is scheduled for completion in 2009. The Saint Johnís Bible will be two feet tall and three feet wide with nearly 1,150 pages bound in seven volumes and will include an estimated 160 illuminations. It will be housed permanently at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint Johnís Abbey and University in Collegeville after the traveling exhibition is complete. A limited edition of 360 full-size printed reproductions of the full Bible will be available through the library for $115,000. The Tacoma Art Museum Store will offer a selection of prints, videos, and books featuring page-by-page reproductions of the Bible.

The Saint Johnís Bible has earned international attention since the project began. It was the subject of a 2003 BBC documentary, the cover story for Smithsonian Magazine in December 2000, and it was featured on National Public Radioís Weekend Edition in 2005. Most recently, a reproduction was presented to Pope Benedict XVI on April 4, 2008.

Illuminating the Word: The Saint Johnís Bible was organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Saint Johnís University . The exhibition and its national tour are made possible by Target.

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