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The Saint John's Bible, Heritage Edition

Illuminating the Word of God for a New Millennium -- On Display at Wartburg College Throughout 2014.

The Heritage Edition

The original manuscript of The Saint John's Bible is curated at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota.  The Heritage Edition on display in 2014 at Wartburg College is a fine-art reproduction of the original which provides public access to this timeless treasure. 

No two Heritage Editions are exactly alike as each as each major illumination is hand treated.  The set includes full-size, museum-quality reproduction volumes produced in a limited edition for collectors and institutions.  Using the highest quality printing techniques and materials, beautifully bound and embossed with metallic foils, this edition is itself a work of art. 

  • The paper is custom-made of 100% cotton with no artificial whiteners or brighteners, coatings or fillers.
  • Monadnock Paper Mills, a family-owned paper mill in Bennington, New Hampshire, and the oldest continuously operating paper mill in the United States, is supplying the paper for the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible.
  • The volumes are bound in rich, handcrafted, embossed red leather.
  • The spines are imprinted with the volume title and number in gold foil.
  • Each volume is finished with an ornamental silver clasp.
  • The binding is hand stitched by a lady in Pakistan.

Under the direct supervision of Donald Jackson, only 299 sets of the Heritage Edition have been produced.  No further sets are planned; it is truly a limited edition.

The Scribe and His Dream


Donald Jackson, one of the world's renowned calligraphers and the scribe to the House of Lords and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,  had a lifetime dream of crafting a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible. In 1995 Father Eric Hollas, OSB, a monk at Saint John's Abbey, brought the idea to the community and they embraced Jackson's dream. It is the first hand- written, illuminated Bible in over 500 years.

The Saint John's Bible is a work of art that unites scripture (NRSV) and illuminations that reflect the Word of God for a new millennium. The artwork contains cave drawings, DNA, The Hubble Telescope, the AIDS virus and the Twin Towers. 

Donald Jackson on May 9, 2011 shortly after penning the final word of The Saint John’s Bible (Image Courtesy of Donald Jackson)

Timeline for The Saint John's Bible

Donald Jackson and Father Eric Hollas of Saint John's University discuss the idea of a handwritten Bible

Jackson creates the first samples for the Bible project and theologians develop a plan for illuminations

The Saint John's Bible is officially commissioned

2000 - March
On Ash Wednesday, the first words were written from the gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, the Word was God..."

2001 - May
"Gospels and Acts" is completed and presented to the public

2003 - August
"The Pentateuch" is completed

2004 - April
"Psalms" is completed and unveiled at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

2005 - April
"Prophets" is completed

2006 - July
"Wisdom Books" is completed

Work on the Heritage Edition begins

2010 - March
"Historical Books" is completed

"Letters & Revelation" is completed and the final page of The Saint John's Bible is presented to Saint John's University 

A Lifetime's Dream

Layout & Design

Initial Design
A computer is used to size text and define line breaks.  The two-foot by three-foot pages of each volume are laid out in full-size spreads.  This enables scribes to work on pages simultaneously, maintain consistency, and avoid awkwardly breaking words.

The script used in The Saint John's Bible was designed by Donald Jackson with three qualities in mind.  The text had to be readable, modern, and appropriately dignified for the Bible.  Subtle differences in the final script mark the work of the six individual scribes on the project.

Tools & Materials

Ink:  Rare Chinese black ink made in the 1890's was used for all the calligraphy. Vermillion, lapis lazuli, and other cakes and powdered pigments are used for color. The materials are mixed with egg yolk and water to make paint that is thicker than the black ink and loaded onto the quills using brushes.

Quills:  All the script is written using quills hand-cut by the scribes. Only the largest flight feathers, called 'primaries,' are used: goose quills for the main body of text, turkey and swan quills for heavier letter forms.

Gold:  Gold leaf makes the manuscript truly illuminated. Using the moisture of breath imparted through a bamboo tube, the artist activates the glue binding agent in gesso until it bonds with the gold leaf. Burnishing tools and brushes finish the gilded image.

Pigments:  Vermillion, lapis lazuli, and other cakes and powdered pigments are used for color. The materials are mixed with egg yolk and water to make paint that is thicker than the black ink and loaded onto the quills using brushes.

Stencils and stamps:  Stencils and stamps are used to apply paint and gold powder throughout, creating a rich visual vocabulary. Stencils and stamps are made from computer images and provide recurring elements within and across volumes of The Saint John's Bible.

More About Quill Pens

Facts of Interest

Planning and work began in 1995.
First words penned March 8, 2000.
Last word penned May 9, 2011.

  • The text is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
  • It took six calligraphers, or scribes, 7 years to complete the 1,127 pages. Each page took between 7-13 hours to create.
  • The pages of The Saint John's Bible are made of calfskin vellum. Each piece of vellum holds four pages.
  • Six artists created the 160 major illuminations.
  • God is represented in gold.
  • This project spanned 15 years.

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