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Rare illustrated Bible wows parishioners over Easter holiday

By Corene Brisendine

In celebration of Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, a volume of the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition is on display through Sunday at St Thomas More Catholic Church.

The Bible is not only a copy of the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, but is also a replica of the original 2-feet by 3-feet Saint John’s Bible that was hand-scribed by six calligraphers and five artists with traditional materials. That work was done under the direction of Donald Jackson, senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth’s Crown Office. The Heritage Edition is one of only 299 museum-quality copies of the original.

The Heritage Edition has been created to mimic the original, blending the old style of hand copying text with modern technology to celebrate the labors, flaws and traditions of the ancient form of reproduction. The edition also blends ancient ideologies with modern images through illustrations that bring the stories into a modern era.

Erma Verhage, St. Thomas More’s librarian, said the church borrowed volume two of the seven-volume set this year for Holy Week. Last year, the church borrowed the first volume during Holy Week to celebrate the set being given to Kansas State University Libraries. It was such a big hit that she asked David Allen, head of the Morse Department of Special Collections at K-State, if the church could borrow it again. In keeping with the donors’ of the edition’s request to share it with the public, Allen did not refuse.

Verhage said the only requirement imposed upon visitors is that they wash their hands before thumbing through the chemical-free, 100 percent American cotton pages. That is done in order to help preserve the beauty of the book for years to come. She said hand sanitizers and lotions were forbidden because the chemicals would bleed onto the pages. Father Don Zimmerman, pastor at St. Thomas More, said people both young and old have enjoyed viewing the word this week, and they plan to display one of the volumes during Holy Week in years to come.

Allen said the university’s set, No. 17 of the 299, was donated to the library by two K-State alumnae, Mary Lynn and Warren Stanley. He said the Stanleys were on the steering committee at Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., which commissioned the Bible in commemoration of the abbey’s 150th anniversary.

The edition was printed on a Heidelberg Press in Minneapolis, Minn., that used an 8-color printing process with ultraviolet light to print not only traditional color, but also metallic ink on each page. Allen said Jackson, a master calligrapher and artist, also worked on each page of the edition to ensure that not only the art, but also the pages themselves were equal to his standards.

He said Jackson used a piece of steel wool on the finished pages to scratch off parts of the gold metallic, much to the chagrin of the printers. But Jackson’s ability to manipulate each copy encouraged him to take more chances with the pages. The library has only six of the seven volumes because the seventh has not been completed, but Allen hopes it will be finished and ready for display soon.

The art is as modern as the text copied. Allen said Jackson wanted to incorporate modern representations and give the book a universal appeal by including not only Christian symbols, but also religious symbols from Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and other basic religions. For example, in the sixth volume, which contains Acts and the Gospels, features an image of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 illustrating the Gospel of Luke. Another example of Jackson’s inclusion of modern symbols is an illustration of the Valley of Bones in Ezekiel, where the “bones” are depicted as not only traditional human remains, but also junk and “car bones” as a modern representation of a bone yards.

While the Heritage edition was printed on cotton, the original was scribed on vellum, an older form of paper made from calf skin. Allen said Jackson was concerned about the quality of vellum used, and at one point traveled to Israel in search of kosher vellum. Unfortunately, the vellum in Israel came from American feed lots, and there was no certainty the cattle were raised free of chemicals and food supplements that might damage the quality of the materials. So Jackson returned to England and found enough skins, 250, to complete the 11,150 pages.

Allen said in addition to using authentic parchment, Jackson went to great lengths to ensure that all the materials used were in sync with ancient hand copied Bibles and texts. He required the calligraphers to use writing quills made from goose, turkey and swan feathers. He also found a shop in London that sold 130-year-old Chinese ink. Verhage said Jackson was afraid the store would raise the price of the ink, so he went back every day buying one stick at a time until he had bought every stick of the ink the store had in stock. In addition to ancient ink, Jackson also used gold and silver leaf, and platinum to “illuminate” the writing and the art.

Zimmerman said it took 7-12 hours to scribe a single page. Also, because more than one calligrapher was writing the book, Jackson decided each scribe would copy facing pages to reduce noticeable discrepancies in writing styles. But Allen said all six calligraphers scribed one of the last pages in the Book of Revelations. He said it gives writing experts a way to view all the calligraphers’ styles at once and compare them to the rest of the pages in the Bible.

Allen said another interesting outcome of hand-scribed works is that there are mistakes. He said many people enjoy looking at the lemur in volume two that is drawn in the margins swinging on a vine surrounding one line at the bottom of the page. The lemur is “pulling” the line of text up in place where the scribe noticed a line was missing after finishing the page. Allen said those enjoyable illustrations would not appear in a modern version of the Bible that had been created through mass production and reviewed by editors before final printing.

“We all love these little fixes to these mistakes, and if no one made a mistake we wouldn’t have that,” he said. “In the entire book, there’s only about six of these mistakes.”

In addition to the “little fixes” the book holds 160 illustrations. Some of them cover only a third of a page while others are full-page illustrations.

Allen said another interesting deviation from the modern printing style is the verse markers. He said Jackson insisted keeping the verses together rather than giving them their own separate line. As a compromise, he inserted colorful shapes within the text marking the end of each verse. Allen said the text would have been even longer and would have taken more than the 14 years it took to make.

The printers included another flaw that could be only seen in the original work. Allen said vellum bleeds through. He said the scribes took great care to line up the text in order to minimize the distraction of the bleed-though from the previous page. In keeping with that aesthetic, the printers of the Heritage Edition created a type of watermark on each page that represented the bleed-through on the original work.

Allen said the Saint John’s Bible is a great reminder of how difficult it used to be to produce copies of text for the masses. He said he appreciates the printing capabilities of today when looking at this work because it has taken 14 years to get to this point. The work was commissioned in 1998, and Jackson wrote the first words in 2000.

The total cost of production of the original work was more than $4 million, and each set of the Heritage Edition cost about $145,000, is also 2-feet by 3-feet and weighs 165 pounds. Verhage said they estimated that volume three weighs about 45 pounds, and is the largest of the seven books. She said the others weigh 35 pounds each.

While volume two will only be on display at St. Thomas More though Sunday, Allen said anyone wanting to see the lemurs, bone yards and twin towers can visit the special collections room in the library at K-State, assuming that specific volume is not leant out to the community.

Allen said K-State has the only copy in Kansas, and the next closest copies are in Omaha, Denver, and the Mayo Clinic.

Corene Brisendine
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In celebration of Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, a volume of the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition is on display through Sunday at St Thomas More Catholic Church.
The Bible is not only a copy of the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, but is also a replica of the original 2-feet by 3-feet Saint John’s Bible that was hand-scribed by six calligraphers and five artists with traditional materials. That work was done under the direction of Donald Jackson, senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth’s Crown Office. The Heritage Edition is one of only 299 museum-quality copies of the original.
The Heritage Edition has been created to mimic the original, blending the old style of hand copying text with modern technology to celebrate the labors, flaws and traditions of the ancient form of reproduction. The edition also blends ancient ideologies with modern images through illustrations that bring the stories into a modern era.
Erma Verhage, St. Thomas More’s librarian, said the church borrowed volume two of the seven-volume set this year for Holy Week. Last year, the church borrowed the first volume during Holy Week to celebrate the set being given to Kansas State University Libraries. It was such a big hit that she asked David Allen, head of the Morse Department of Special Collections at K-State, if the church could borrow it again. In keeping with the donors’ of the edition’s request to share it with the public, Allen did not refuse.
Verhage said the only requirement imposed upon visitors is that they wash their hands before thumbing through the chemical-free, 100 percent American cotton pages. That is done in order to help preserve the beauty of the book for years to come. She said hand sanitizers and lotions were forbidden because the chemicals would bleed onto the pages. Father Don Zimmerman, pastor at St. Thomas More, said people both young and old have enjoyed viewing the word this week, and they plan to display one of the volumes during Holy Week in years to come.
Allen said the university’s set, No. 17 of the 299, was donated to the library by two K-State alumnae, Mary Lynn and Warren Stanley. He said the Stanleys were on the steering committee at Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., which commissioned the Bible in commemoration of the abbey’s 150th anniversary.
The edition was printed on a Heidelberg Press in Minneapolis, Minn., that used an 8-color printing process with ultraviolet light to print not only traditional color, but also metallic ink on each page. Allen said Jackson, a master calligrapher and artist, also worked on each page of the edition to ensure that not only the art, but also the pages themselves were equal to his standards.
He said Jackson used a piece of steel wool on the finished pages to scratch off parts of the gold metallic, much to the chagrin of the printers. But Jackson’s ability to manipulate each copy encouraged him to take more chances with the pages. The library has only six of the seven volumes because the seventh has not been completed, but Allen hopes it will be finished and ready for display soon.
The art is as modern as the text copied. Allen said Jackson wanted to incorporate modern representations and give the book a universal appeal by including not only Christian symbols, but also religious symbols from Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and other basic religions. For example, in the sixth volume, which contains Acts and the Gospels, features an image of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 illustrating the Gospel of Luke. Another example of Jackson’s inclusion of modern symbols is an illustration of the Valley of Bones in Ezekiel, where the “bones” are depicted as not only traditional human remains, but also junk and “car bones” as a modern representation of a bone yards.
While the Heritage edition was printed on cotton, the original was scribed on vellum, an older form of paper made from calf skin. Allen said Jackson was concerned about the quality of vellum used, and at one point traveled to Israel in search of kosher vellum. Unfortunately, the vellum in Israel came from American feed lots, and there was no certainty the cattle were raised free of chemicals and food supplements that might damage the quality of the materials. So Jackson returned to England and found enough skins, 250, to complete the 11,150 pages.
Allen said in addition to using authentic parchment, Jackson went to great lengths to ensure that all the materials used were in sync with ancient hand copied Bibles and texts. He required the calligraphers to use writing quills made from goose, turkey and swan feathers. He also found a shop in London that sold 130-year-old Chinese ink. Verhage said Jackson was afraid the store would raise the price of the ink, so he went back every day buying one stick at a time until he had bought every stick of the ink the store had in stock. In addition to ancient ink, Jackson also used gold and silver leaf, and platinum to “illuminate” the writing and the art.
Zimmerman said it took 7-12 hours to scribe a single page. Also, because more than one calligrapher was writing the book, Jackson decided each scribe would copy facing pages to reduce noticeable discrepancies in writing styles. But Allen said all six calligraphers scribed one of the last pages in the Book of Revelations. He said it gives writing experts a way to view all the calligraphers’ styles at once and compare them to the rest of the pages in the Bible.
Allen said another interesting outcome of hand-scribed works is that there are mistakes. He said many people enjoy looking at the lemur in volume two that is drawn in the margins swinging on a vine surrounding one line at the bottom of the page. The lemur is “pulling” the line of text up in place where the scribe noticed a line was missing after finishing the page. Allen said those enjoyable illustrations would not appear in a modern version of the Bible that had been created through mass production and reviewed by editors before final printing.
“We all love these little fixes to these mistakes, and if no one made a mistake we wouldn’t have that,” he said. “In the entire book, there’s only about six of these mistakes.”
In addition to the “little fixes” the book holds 160 illustrations. Some of them cover only a third of a page while others are full-page illustrations.
Allen said another interesting deviation from the modern printing style is the verse markers. He said Jackson insisted keeping the verses together rather than giving them their own separate line. As a compromise, he inserted colorful shapes within the text marking the end of each verse. Allen said the text would have been even longer and would have taken more than the 14 years it took to make.
The printers included another flaw that could be only seen in the original work. Allen said vellum bleeds through. He said the scribes took great care to line up the text in order to minimize the distraction of the bleed-though from the previous page. In keeping with that aesthetic, the printers of the Heritage Edition created a type of watermark on each page that represented the bleed-through on the original work.

Allen said the Saint John’s Bible is a great reminder of how difficult it used to be to produce copies of text for the masses. He said he appreciates the printing capabilities of today when looking at this work because it has taken 14 years to get to this point. The work was commissioned in 1998, and Jackson wrote the first words in 2000.

The total cost of production of the original work was more than $4 million, and each set of the Heritage Edition cost about $145,000, is also 2-feet by 3-feet and weighs 165 pounds. Verhage said they estimated that volume three weighs about 45 pounds, and is the largest of the seven books. She said the others weigh 35 pounds each.

While volume two will only be on display at St. Thomas More though Sunday, Allen said anyone wanting to see the lemurs, bone yards and twin towers can visit the special collections room in the library at K-State, assuming that specific volume is not leant out to the community.

Allen said K-State has the only copy in Kansas, and the next closest copies are in Omaha, Denver, and the Mayo Clinic.









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