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The Saint John's Bible: The Creation of a Masterpiece

What is it?

PagesFlipSmallAfter observing the monks of Saint John’s Abbey processing with their Book of the Gospels for Sunday Mass, Donald Jackson, the official scribe and calligrapher to Queen Elizabeth II, was inspired to create the first completely handwritten and illuminated bible in more than 500 years. In 1995, he proposed the idea for the project to Saint John’s Abbey and University, who commissioned The Saint John’s Bible in 1998.

Jackson, joined by an international team of calligraphers and artists, constructed the bible using customary materials such as calfskin vellum, ancient inks, gold leaf, palladium, and platinum, and wrote with quill pens formed from goose, turkey, and swan feathers. The completed work includes seven volumes of about 1,150 pages and 160 major illuminations. When opened, each volume stands two feet tall by three feet wide.

Heritage Edition

With the original manuscript remaining at home in Collegeville, Minnesota at Saint John’s University, the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible was developed to give diverse institutions the opportunity to witness and experience its alluring artwork and traditional roots.

This edition is bound in Italian calfskin leather and adorned with a solid silver clasp. The paper is 100 percent cotton and each volume is numbered and initialed by Donald Jackson. The calligraphy, imagery, and illuminations mirror the scale, beauty, and artistic intent of the original. There have been 299 sets printed and shared with communities all over the world.

Why is it important?

MultiplicationOfTheLoavesAndFishesJust as the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana, passed down the Franciscan sponsorship values to the Marian University community, Donald Jackson and his team have also passed down core values for readers to apply to their lives. The six core values include:

  • Igniting spiritual imagination
  • Glorifying God’s word
  • Reviving tradition
  • Discovering history through manuscript exploration
  • Fostering the arts
  • Giving voice to the underprivileged

In keeping with the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, these values guided the work of the project’s artists and scholars in establishing a modern “Bible for the Times.”

The Saint John’s Bible was designed to spark the spiritual imagination of people from all faith journeys. The graceful text and artwork allows the reader to connect more deeply and gain insight into the lost skill of patient and prayerful reading. The Saint John’s Bible is a source of reflection, wisdom, and hope for individuals, communities, and institutions of all backgrounds.

The Saint John's Bible in a Modern World

The Saint John’s Bible not only connects the reader to a deeper understanding and love of God, but also shows God’s presence in our lives. Strands of DNA are woven into the illumination of the “Genealogy of Jesus.” Satellite photos of the Ganges River Delta and photos from the Hubble telescope were used to depict Creation and in the Acts of the Apostles, "To the Ends of the Earth" includes the first vision of earth as seen from space in a handwritten bible.


Genealogy of Jesus, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Creation, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2003, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


To the Ends of the Earth, Donald Jackson with contributions from Andrew Jamieson and Sally Mae Joseph, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Marian University does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, creed, national origin, age or disabilities in the selection of administrative personnel, faculty and staff, and students.
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