Saint John’s Bible Illuminates the Christmas Season

by Kate Sullivan '15

Two volumes of the Saint John's Bible Heritage Edition, a fine art limited reproduction of the first handwritten, illuminated Bible in 500 years, served as the focal point of this year’s School of Theology Christmas celebration. Faculty and staff gathered on December 11 for a special presentation by Father Eric Hollas, Ph.D., a Benedictine monk and priest at Saint John’s Abbey and deputy to the president for advancement at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, who spoke on the process of creating the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition and invited guests to examine its pages. Fr. Hollas shared the overarching mission of the Saint John’s Bible, which, “serves to ignite the spiritual imagination of people around the world of all faith journeys.” The illuminated manuscripts bring together the traditional elements of handwritten texts in order to slow down the mind and allow readers to enter into the living book. He touched upon his favorite aspects of the Saint John’s Bible including the Western African rendition of Adam and Eve. Fr. Hollas said he witnessed many cry as they gazed upon the illumination, as it was the first time they saw a resemblance of themselves in the Bible. “The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition honors the beauty of the Word in modern and ancient ways, in both writing and illustration,” said Dean of the School of Theology T. Scott Daniels, Ph.D. “It enhances our resources, providing opportunities for scholarly research and artistic appreciation in the School of Theology and throughout the university.” Fr. Hollas’s instrumental role with the Saint John’s Bible began in 1995 when he met master calligrapher and scribe to the Queen of England Donald Jackson who expressed his lifelong dream of creating an illuminated Bible. Serving at the time as the director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Fr. Hollas brought the proposal to the president of Saint John’s University. In 1998 the university commissioned the project and Fr. Hollas joined the committee that oversaw production. A team of 6 illuminators and 5 scribes worked with Jackson to complete the masterpiece in 16 years. The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition features seven volumes printed on 100 percent cotton. The original, handwritten Bible is made of vellum, with 160 illuminations, and an estimated production cost of $8 million.

In order to share this monumental work around the world, Saint John’s established “A Year With The Saint John's Bible,” which loans reproductions of the original work, known as the Heritage Edition. The Mayo Clinic, Yale University, Saint Mary’s College, and Pepperdine University are among those to display the Heritage Edition. APU joins the program this year, exhibiting two volumes, Gospel & Acts and the Pentateuch, through May 2014, in the Hugh and Hazel Darling Library. Since the arrival of the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition last fall, the library has welcomed the International Society of Bible Collectors, the Southern California Theological Library Association, Dinner Rally guests, and English, Bible, theology, and art classes to explore its pages.

"During this Advent season, and throughout the year ahead, the volumes of the Saint John's Bible Heritage Edition speak to the APU community in joyous ways, inspiring our faith, our appreciation of art, and our love of the Scriptures,” said Luba Zakharov, University Libraries librarian and curator.

To learn more about how the university uses the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition, visit