Media Fact Sheet
The Saint John’s Bible Media Fact Sheet
(Updated October 2012)

The Vision and Values

In the Middle Ages, monasteries helped preserve knowledge and culture for the sake of the greater community. By commissioning a handwritten Bible, Saint John’s revived a tradition and affirmed its commitment to the study of scripture, to the book arts and to educational, artistic and spiritual pursuits.

The Saint John’s Bible, consistent with the educational mission, values and vision of Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota is a spiritual, educational and artistic endeavor and a significant contribution to the new millennium. The Saint John’s Bible is guided by the following vision and values:

Ignite Imagination — With the same dynamic relationship that existed between medieval Benedictine houses and the scribes whose talents they engaged, Saint John's Abbey and University and calligrapher Donald Jackson, in collaboration with many from the wider community, produced a Bible, a work of art, which serves to ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world.

Glorify God's Word — A Biblical illumination takes the Word of God and glorifies it by transforming the Word into a complementary art form employing illustration, color and design. The Saint John’s Bible is meant to be a prophetic witness to the glory of the Word of God and to humankind's God-given dignity.

Revive Tradition — In the Middle Ages, monasteries were leaven in both church and society. They were centers of culture and learning which kept the tradition of scriptural reading alive for the whole world. They helped preserve knowledge and culture for the sake of the larger human family. In commissioning a handwritten, illuminated Bible, Saint John's revived a tradition that had been nearly absent from the Christian world since the European development of the printing press in the fifteenth century. The Saint John’s Bible affirms this community's commitment to the study of Scripture, to the book arts and to educational, artistic, spiritual and scholarly pursuits.

Discover History — Scholars have speculated about the processes and challenges involved in creating a great manuscript. The Saint John’s Bible allows art and cultural historians the opportunity to experiment in historical discovery, to explore a process that was once a core activity of human civilization.

Foster the ArtsThe Saint John’s Bible with its spiritual themes and art reflects the cultural context both of Saint John’s and of contemporary society.

Give VoiceThe Saint John’s Bible seeks to give voice and expression to those who are now unprivileged. By involving many people, The Saint John’s Bible is linked to other commentaries, other images, other interpretations and understandings. Inviting various groups to contribute to The Saint John’s Bible extended the arms of churches to the marginalized in the true spirit of Christianity.

The Origin
Beginning in 1970, Donald Jackson expressed in media interviews his lifetime dream of creating an illuminated Bible. Following a Saint John's sponsored calligraphy presentation at the Newberry Library in Chicago in 1995, Jackson discussed a handwritten Bible with Fr. Eric Hollas, OSB, former executive director of the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library at Saint John's University. Between 1996 and 1997, Saint John's explored the feasibility of the Bible project, Jackson created first samples, and theologians developed the illumination schema. The Saint John’s Bible was officially commissioned in 1998 and funding opportunities were launched. The public was introduced to the project in 1999.

{ top of page }

The Overview

Monumental – In the tradition of great medieval Bibles, The Saint John’s Bible is monumental — two feet tall and three feet wide and 1,100+ pages organized in seven distinct volumes.

Contemporary – Though each letter is rendered by hand, The Saint John’s Bible used state-of-the-art computer technology to create and manage page layouts as well as employed a modern English translation and contemporary scripts and illumination.

Ecumenical – Saint John’s Abbey and University are dedicated to ecumenism. The text, translation and imagery in The Saint John’s Bible reflect this commitment.

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was selected by theologians and scholars at Saint John’s University as the translation for The Saint John’s Bible. It was selected because its predecessor, the Revised Standard Version, had gained the distinction of being officially authorized for use by most major Christian Churches: Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. NSRV is a modern English translation with a strong literal tradition and it has been approved by the Canadian Conference of Bishops for Catholic use in Canada and The National Conference of Catholic Bishops for use by Catholics in the United States.

Tools and Materials
The Saint John’s Bible incorporates many of the characteristics of its medieval predecessors. It was written on calfskin vellum using turkey, goose and swan quills. The team of scribes used natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments, and gold and silver leaf gild.

Layout and Design
A computer was used to size the text and define line breaks. The pages were laid out in full size spreads with sketches in position. Artists used these layouts to guide their work. Each page is 24 ½” x 15 7/8”, making a two-page spread approximately three feet wide.

Book headings — Each book of the Bible has an illuminated book heading Throughout the Bible, book titles appear on each two-page spread written in English on the left page and in its native translation root (most often Hebrew or in some cases Greek) on the right page.

Verses — Paragraph changes are marked by small colored “kites” alternating in 19th century vermilion water-color (red) and sky blue designer gouache as well as other colors; and the verse numbers appear in the margins. All other verse numbers appear in the line of text and are written with a smaller pen.

Chapter Capitals — The beginning of each chapter begins with a large decorative capital letter. Each decorative capital in the entire project is different.

Script — The calligraphic script was specially designed for The Saint John’s Bible by Donald Jackson. Letters are written in lamp black ink from 19th century Chinese stick inks made from carbon.

Script size — The “x” height describes the size of the script. The small letters are about two millimeters tall. The height of the script is directly proportionate to the size of the quill.

Columns — Each page has two 4 ¾” columns of script. Columns are justified on the left and the right. There are 54 lines per column, and an average of 10.5 words per line.

Marginalia — Small decorative illustrations, often created with gold leaf and other gilding, appear in the margins.

Notations — The official notes from the New Revised Standard Version appear in the lower left and right hand margins of each page.

Theological Briefs
The theological briefs presented composite word-pictures for each of the passages developed by the Committee on Illumination and Text (CIT). The CIT was made up of artists, medievalists, theologians, biblical scholars and art historians. These exegetical (an explanation or critical interpretation of the text) and theological briefs were narratives that varied in length and were in an outline form. They provided Jackson with suggested verses, scriptural cross-references, free association about the text and its imagery, and local association/references to existing works of artistic interpretation.

The Saint John’s Bible has over 160 illuminations and numerous special text treatments filling its 1,100+ pages. The illuminations were all dictated by a list called the ‘schema,’ a master plan identifying which passages were to be illuminated. The schema was expanded with detailed theological ‘briefs’ giving Donald Jackson full background on each passage. The schema also stated how large each illumination was to be. Jackson’s process in preparing to illuminate a passage was similar to the monastic practice of Lectio Divina, a careful mulling over the text, looking at the details, thinking, meditating, and letting it sink in. The Committee on Illumination and Text (CIT) wrote the theological briefs and likened its work to a group experience of Lectio Divina. Jackson’s sacred reading had a practical aim: to spark visual ideas.

Biblical Themes
The Saint John’s Bible speaks of the 1500-year-old tradition of Saint Benedict and his Rule, and the following Benedictine values in particular:

Hospitality – The Rule of Saint Benedict says the guest should be received as Christ. The Saint John’s Bible speaks to hospitality for the poor, the pilgrim, the seeker and the stranger.

Transformation – Benedictines take the vow of conversatio or conversion of life. Conversatio entails an ongoing process of aligning one's life more closely to the life of Christ.

Justice for God's People – Of special concern to Benedictines and all believers in biblical revelation is the constant call for justice for all of God's people who are equally worthy before God.

Benedictine references – each scripture passage referred to by St. Benedict in the Rule is marked with a special cross in The Saint John’s Bible, connecting this Bible to the Benedictines in Minnesota.

{ top of page }

The Volumes

There are seven distinct volumes in The Saint John’s Bible each with their own illuminations or special treatments and characteristics. These seven volumes contain the 73 books of the Old and New Testaments.

Gospels and Acts
Gospels and Acts was completed in May 2002. The volume is heavily illuminated with more than 25 illuminations including full-page frontispiece illuminations for each of the four gospels and several others throughout the 136 pages. Some of the prominent illuminations included in the first volume that have been filmed, displayed or written about are the Genealogy of Jesus, Birth of Christ, Raising of Lazarus, Crucifixion, Christ Our Light, Last Supper, Road to Emmaus and Pentecost.

Pentateuch was completed in August 2003. Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), includes 164 pages of beautiful illumination and text. The seven prominent illuminations in this volume are Creation, Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Jacob’s Ladder, Abraham and Sarah, the Ten Commandments and the Death of Moses.

Psalms was completed in April 2004. This volume has 84 pages and consists of five books, paralleling Pentateuch. Unlike the first two volumes, Gospels and Acts and Pentateuch, Psalms has its own font, a lighter weight script, which underscores the melodic and poetic nature of Psalms. Donald Jackson is doing special treatments, which hint at the ways in which we might “see” Psalms if they are sung or read poetically. Jackson chose colors to represent the different themes and designs to symbolize the different types of Psalms. He devised a way of weaving the two together that resulted in a unique script, colors and shading in Psalms.

Prophets was completed in April 2005. The volume includes 232 pages and 20 illuminations. Prominent illuminations include: Messianic Predictions, Suffering Servant, Ezekiel’s Prophetic Vision, Valley of the Dry Bones, Vision of the New Temple, Vision of the Son of Man and Demands of Social Justice .

Wisdom Books
Wisdom Books was completed in July of 2006 and includes 136 pages and 24 illuminations. Prominent illuminations include the Job Frontispiece, Wisdom Woman, Garden of Desire, Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Creation, Covenant, Shekinah, Kingdom.

Historical Books
Historical Books was completed in March 2010 and includes 276 pages and 20 illuminations. Prominent illuminations include the Joshua Frontispiece, Judges Anthology, City of David, King Solomon’s Temple , and Esther.

Letters and Revelation
Letters and Revelation was completed in May of 2011 and includes 96 pages, 12 major illuminations and 20 special text treatments. Prominent artworks in Revelation include the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Letter to the Seven Churches, and Vision of the New Jerusalem. Donald Jackson wrote and illuminated the Revelation portion of this volume entirely on his own.

{ top of page }

The Places

The community of The Saint John’s Bible is truly international, with its headquarters at Saint John's University in central Minnesota and Donald Jackson’s scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales.

Saint John’s
In 1856, Benedictine monks originally from Bavaria traveled to Minnesota and built an abbey dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. They brought with them a vision of the future and the role of education that inspired them to found Saint John's University. They also brought a tradition steeped in 1500 years of monastic history. Those two visions, forward-thinking imbued with an appreciation for tradition, would lead Saint John's Abbey and its University to be a creative center for education, art, architecture, liturgy and the written word.

Located on 2400 acres of land, the Saint John's campus is remarkable in both its natural and architectural beauty. It includes pine and hardwood forest, oak savanna and restored prairies, wetlands and several lakes. Four-year residential liberal arts education, the liturgical movement, ecumenism, cultural preservation, art and architecture have become signature characteristics of Saint John's.

Saint John’s is home to Saint John’s Abbey and University, the School of Theology and Seminary and the Preparatory School. Over the years, Saint John’s has become home to a number of other renowned institutions including: The Liturgical Press, the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, the Episcopal House of Prayer, the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, the Jay Phillips Center for Jewish Christian Learning, Arca Artium, Saint John’s Pottery, Saint John’s Arboretum and Saint John’s Boys Choir.

Scriptorium in Wales
Donald and Mabel Jackson live in a converted village hall, a rambling half-timbered building, beautiful against the hills that surround it. Across the small road, the ‘schoolroom’, a converted mechanic’s shed, was renovated to make a scriptorium. It is full of natural light, with a row of desks for the scribal team. In the back are a kitchen and another work area. Across from the schoolroom, a large black corrugated iron shed serves as a storage area.

{ top of page }

The People

The Saint John’s Team - Committee on Illumination and Text (CIT)
The Saint John’s Bible Committee on Illumination and Text met on a regular basis to discuss each of the passages that were illustrated and to record their reflections for Jackson. They did so with a keen understanding of scripture and the relevant issues of today and the changing world. The committee included Johanna Becker, OSB; Nathanael Hauser, OSB; Ellen Joyce; David Paul Lange, OSB; Irene Nowell, OSB; Michael Patella, OSB (Chair of the committee); Simon-Hoa Phan, OSB; Alan Reed, OSB; Columba Stewart, OSB; Susan Wood, SCL.

The Saint John’s Bible Staff for the Original Pages
Tim Ternes, Director of The Saint John’s Bible Project
Linda Orzechowski, Assistant to the Project

Wales Team
Donald Jackson was the artistic director and led a team of calligraphers and artists in writing and illuminating the Bible at his scriptorium in Wales. The team was made up of skilled scribes, some who worked at the scriptorium and others who took pages of vellum back to their own studios. They met at regular intervals to hold together the weight, texture and appearance of the script. The Bible also incorporated art works from several “guest artists” selected by Donald Jackson. The members of the artistic team follow:

Donald JacksonArtistic Director
Mabel JacksonPartner
Sally Mae JosephStudio Manager (1999-2005)
Mark L’ArgentStudio Assistant (2000-2)
Sarah HarrisStudio Assistant (2002-5), Studio Manager (2005-12)
Olivia Edwards Project Manager (1999-2001)
Rebecca Cherry Project Manager (2001-8)
Rachel Collard Project Manager (2008-9)
Jane Grayer Project Manager (2009 -)
Vin Godier Computer Graphic s (1997-)
Sally Sargent Proofreader (2000-)

Sue Hufton
Donald Jackson
Sally Mae Joseph
Susan Leiper
Brian Simpson
Angela Swan

Artist Calligraphers:
Diane von Arx
Hazel Dolby
Thomas Ingmire
Donald Jackson
Sally Mae Joseph
Suzanne Moore

Collaborative Artists:
Aidan Hart    Iconography
Sarah Harris
Andrew Jamieson
Chris Tomlin    Natural History

Hebrew Script:
Christopher Calderhead
Donald Jackson
Izzy Pludwinski    Scribe and Consultant

Greek Script:
Donald Jackson
Brian Simpson

Computer Graphics:
Vin Godier
Sarah Harris

{ top of page }

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) premiered Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible from April 10 through July 3, 2005 and then assisted in organizing a national and international tour. Following the debut, the exhibit traveled to major venues throughout the United States and internationally. Target Corporation was the sponsor for the national exhibition tour which ran until April, 2009. From February 15 to May 24, 2009, Prophets and Wisdom Books was on exhibition at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. This exhibition presented The Saint John’s Bible in the historical context of the Walters significant and renowned manuscript collection. From March 11 – October 24, 2010, Prophets and Wisdom Books were on exhibition at the Science Museum of Minnesota as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. Throughout all of 2012, select pages from Prophets and Wisdom Books were on exhibition at the New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe, NM. 68 original pages were recently displayed at the Canton Museum of Art in Canton, Ohio, and the next exhibition of original pages is scheduled for the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida from March 21 – April 23, 2014. A current outline of scheduled upcoming exhibition venues may be found at by clicking on “See the Bible.”

Seeing The Saint John’s Bible at Saint John’s University:
The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), Saint John’s University, Collegeville, MN, is the home of The Saint John’s Bible. Original pages from the manuscript are always on exhibition in the HMML gallery which is free and open to the public. HMML is open from Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. From the first weekend in May through mid-December, HMML is also open on Saturdays from noon- 4:00 p.m. HMML is closed weekends the remainder of the year. You may learn more about what is on exhibition by calling 320-363-3351 or 320-363-3514.

The Saint John’s Bible Products
Fine art prints, note cards, a documentary about the project and page-by-page, full-color reproduction books of the original manuscript are available for purchase. Illuminating the Word, the Making of The Saint John’s Bible chronicles the process of creating the Bible and tells the story of this monumental achievement. For more information or to order products, please visit the Liturgical Press website at or call 1-800-858-5450.

The Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible
The Heritage Edition, a full-size, museum quality, fine art reproduction of The Saint John’s Bible is now available. For more information contact the Heritage Program at 320-363-2611. Or go to and click on “Heritage Program”.

Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), home of The Saint John’s Bible, is dedicated to the preservation of and access to art, rare books and manuscripts focused on how humans imagine the sacred. HMML is located on Saint John’s University campus, 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis on I-94, HMML can be found at or through the Saint John’s University website at

Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict
Saint John’s University for men and the College of Saint Benedict for women are partners in liberal arts education, providing students the opportunity to benefit from the distinctions of not one, but two nationally recognized Catholic, Benedictine, residential undergraduate colleges. Together, the colleges challenge students to live balanced lives of learning, work, leadership and service in a changing world.


For more information on The Saint John’s Bible, please contact:

Tim Ternes
Director, The Saint John’s Bible
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library
Saint John’s University
Box 7333
Collegeville, MN 56321

For media image release, please contact:

Linda Orzechowski
Executive Assistant
The Saint John’s Bible

For Heritage Edition Information and sales, please contact:

John Ross
Executive Director
Heritage Program

For retail product line, please contact:

Liz Owens
Customer Service
Liturgical Press

For Seeing the Word, a visual Bible-study program for faith formation, please contact:

Barbara Sutton
School of Theology

{ top of page }