Donald Jackson always dreamed of making an illustrated Bible.
The Welshman, who served as Queen Elizabeth’s calligrapher, saw his dream come to reality with the new millennium – and with the help of the Saint John’s Abbey monks.
Jackson knew the monks for the care and reverence with which they carried the Book of the Gospels during processions into Mass, so presented them with his idea for a handmade Bible in 1995. The same materials, techniques and tools employed before the invention of the printing press would be used, he told them.
Work began on Ash Wednesday, March 8, 2000, and was a collaboration of an extensive group of calligraphers and artists under Jackson’s direction. The project was completed in September 2006, 11 years after Jackson’s visit to the abbey.
The illuminations – or gilded illustrations – that accompany the Saint John’s Bible text express the imaginations of modern-day believers, just as Bibles created five centuries ago were inspired by life at that time, according to Jackson.
They represent an artform little used for 500 years.
Now, 25 exquisite prints from the Saint John’s Bible are on display in Missoula at Blessed Trinity Catholic Community. Each giclee print is about 22 by 30 inches in size, and is one illuminated page from the Bible.
Included are prints from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
Father Edward “Ed” Hislop saw the prints at a church convention and enlisted the help of Blessed Trinity’s director of faith formation.
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Parishioners provided funding to bring the exhibit to Missoula.
Blessed Trinity already had and used a copy of the Saint John’s Bible in classes and services. Faith formation director Louise Yamasaki said church members have used the Bible as part of Benedictine practices known as visio divina, or “seeing the word,” in combination with lectio divina, or “reflecting on the word.”
The classes have provided ways for students to receive clarity through the St. John’s illuminations, and possibly develop a new interpretation. “For us, I can say in our little visio class, people have found new meaning in the word through the visual picture,” she said.
Sister Mary Jo Quinn said the Saint John’s Bible also has been used in Mass during special seasons. The illuminated Bible gives the faithful a way to “look at Scripture with the illuminations (and) to let it move deeper into you.”
Yamasaki agreed. Illuminations “pull you into the Scripture,” she said.
“There’s the meaning at face value, but then as you reflect on it you put yourself into the story,” she said.
Both hope more Missoula residents will visit the exhibit before it leaves Missoula at week’s end. The Saint John’s Bible will only be at Blessed Trinity Catholic Community until Sunday. The last two showings are scheduled for this Friday in the First Friday art walks from 5 to 8 p.m., and there will be a final general viewing Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The Sunday viewing will end in prayer.
Blessed Trinity church is located at 1475 Eaton St. in Missoula.
Chloe Rogers is a University of Montana journalism student and an intern at the Missoulian