Lost Art: Centuries after invention of the printing press, group creates handwritten and illuminated Bible

The invention of the printing press in the 15th century made reading materials widely accessible, spreading information and imagination to the masses. Though the invention was a huge advancement toward modern society, it also marked the loss of an art.

For 700 years, the ancient tradition of commissioning a handwritten illuminated bible was lost. Then, in 2000, after two years of planning, writing began on The Saint John’s Bible, commissioned by Saint John’s Abby and University in Minnesota.

The process was coordinated by Donald Jackson, head scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office, who began the painstaking process of writing each word on vellum with the phrase, “In the beginning was the word...” Now, 12 years later, the seven-volume book is complete.

Several giclee prints featuring the illuminated (or illustrated) pages are on exhibit at Holy Rosary Catholic Church this month. It also features a full size replica of the hand written and illuminated original volume of Gospels and Acts.

Theresa Leland, of Bozeman, was instrumental in Bringing the Saint John’s Bible exhibit to Bozeman. A professional calligrapher, Leland has lectured on early examples of illuminated Bibles. Her excitement over the project is contagious.

“(The Saint John’s Bible) has generated excitement among historians, artists, book collectors, calligraphers because it creates in the historic tradition of production, a book that is truly contemporary in the new millennium,” Leland said.

Like its predecessors, the work is in line with the times. The images and text are an intriguing mixture of the modern and ancient worlds. The text, though written with feather quills, was first drafted on computers. The images use more modern techniques, such as stamping, and certainly reflect modern sensibilities and styles, yet the whole work is on hand-processed vellum.

Leland called the art an “eclectic mixture of images from various cultures and traditions.” She also explained how technology was used. The creation illumination, for example, uses picture taken by the Hubble telescope of the Ganges River delta.

Though the work is religious in nature, Leland stressed that the exhibit is open to the public, be they “Catholic, Protestant or Jewish.”

“Everyone should have the opportunity to view this historic masterpiece,” she said.

For more information, visit www.saintjohnsbible.org.

© 2014 Bozeman Daily Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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