A Bible straight from the Middle Ages was completed just last year.
Prints from the St. John’s Illuminated Bible will be on display through Thursday in the library at Mount Aloysius College, 7373 Admiral Peary Highway, Cresson.
The St. John’s Bible is the first illuminated, handwritten Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in 500 years.
Sister Helen Marie Burns, vice president of mission integration at Mount Aloysius, said there are 17 prints on display, 13 on the main floor of the library and four downstairs in the ecumenical studies center.
The prints feature pages from books in both the Old and New Testaments.
“I was on the board of theology at St. John’s University when the project began,” Burns said. “I was looking for an opportunity to bring it here.”
Burns found that opportunity with a summer Scripture institute, a three-day workshop for clergy and pastors, and the college’s alumni reunion, which were both held in June.
“This was a good time to bring it,” Burns said. “We were interested in it, too, because of our ecumenical studies library, which houses 18,000 volumes. We want to create a center for the community.”
“The Illuminator,” a 50-minute documentary DVD explaining the process of handwriting and illustrating the St. John’s Bible, is available to watch before viewing the exhibit.
“It’s a summary of the work,” Burns said. “Renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson, who is the director of the project, is the narrator.”
Jackson describes the project as the calligraphers’ supreme challenge, their Sistine Chapel.
The DVD will be available anytime, even after the traveling exhibit leaves.
Burns said the 17-print traveling exhibit or a smaller 12-print version is available for viewing by church groups.
“It’s in demand, so you need to call ahead to schedule a showing,” Burns said.
“I contacted them in January.”
Shamim Rajpar, information literacy librarian at Mount Aloysius, was particularly interested in the print depicting Adam and Eve, which shows the first humans created by God as an “African” man and woman surrounded by patterned fabrics from various ancient cultures.
A poisonous coral snake represents the serpent in the garden and a gold bar framing the couple suggests God’s presence.
Rajpar was a Peace Corps volunteer in the late ’60s in Tanzania, where locals believe the Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania near Mount Kilimanjaro is the site of the Garden of Eden.
The Olduvai Gorge, also known as the Cradle of Mankind, is one of the earliest archaeological sites of human remains.
“The word I would use to describe my reaction is compelling,” Rajpar said. “This print is a confirmation. You get the whole point.”
Burns said she is amazed that the Mount Aloysius display is only the third place in Pennsylvania where the prints have been displayed.
Other venues were Erie and Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County.
“An exhibit of the originals has gone to major art museums, but the liability would be too great for a college like ours,” Burns said.
The Bible was commissioned by St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., and executed by Jackson and a team of scribes and artists.
Planning and work on the Bible began in 1998 and was done in Jackson’s scriptorium, literally meaning a place for writing, in Wales.
In the tradition of other medieval Bibles, the St. John’s Bible is 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide when opened, with nearly 1,150 pages bound in seven volumes, some volumes weighing as much as 35 pounds.
All 73 books of the Bible are presented, using the New Revised Standard Version translation.
Each vellum page is written and drawn entirely by hand using quills and paints hand ground from precious minerals and stones such as lapis lazuli, malachite, silver and 24-karat gold.
Even errors of omission by the scribes are done artistically with a hand-lettered correction in a scroll at the bottom of the page attached by a ribbon to a bird marking the place of insertion.
Each letter might be rendered by hand, but those who put together the St. John’s Bible used state-of-the-art computer technology to create and manage page layouts.
“Now that I have inscribed the final Amen, I realize that over the long years of this task, a boyhood dream, I have gradually absorbed an enduring conviction of the pin-sharp relevance of these ancient biblical texts to the past, present and future of our personal and public life and experience,” Jackson said in a release.
“These texts have a life of their own, and their life is a mirror of the human spirit and experience.”
The originals will be housed in the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library on the campus of St. John’s.
What: Prints from the St. John’s Illuminated Bible.
Where: Library at Mount Aloysius College, 7373 Admiral Peary Highway, Cresson.
When: Through Thursday.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Information: 886-6510 or www.saintjohnsbible.org.