the st. john's bible part 1

the st. john's bible part 1

I won't have much to say in this post. I'll simply show you the pictures I took and some interesting things I learned while viewing the St. John's Bible at St. John's University.

the university

The first thing you see when you enter the university is the imposing, brutalism-inspired architecture by Marcel Breuer. You can read all about it here:

Breuer Buildings on the Campus of St. John’s University

And here's his very impressive Wikipedia page:

Marcel Breuer - Wikipedia
This is the abbey church. The honeycomb you see is actually supporting an entire wall of stained glass! There was a funeral going on during the time I was there, so I wasn't able to photograph the inside. 
This is the abbey church from a different angle.
And here's what the residence halls look like. I was extremely impressed with the architecture.

the bible itself

Just as you walk in, you're greeted with a reprint of this introduction page to Ecclesiastes:

Donald Jackson is the official calligrapher to the Crown Office of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He was also the artistic director for the entire St. John's Bible project. There's not much about him online, but he seems to be a really big deal in the calligraphy world:

Donald Jackson (calligrapher) - Wikipedia

The first thing that struck me about the Bible was its scale. It's huge! Three feet by two feet when it's opened. But it's actually always opened at this point because of the next surprising thing: the St. John's Bible isn't bound! It's all loose 2'x3' sheets of vellum. Here's a picture of the docent standing next to some pages for scale:

The displays in the museum generally had two pages, gently folded in half so that you could see facing pages like here:

Caption from the museum: Suffering Servant, Donald Jackson: "The prophets describe a coming Messiah who will restore peace and justice to Israel, yet he will be despised by the wicked and bear their sins quietly. Thus, he is called the Suffering Servant. In Jackson's image, an emaciated prisoner stands above the head of a lamb, referencing the text in which the Messiah endures his tormenters with grace, 'like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.' The shadow of a modern chain link fence surrounds the Servant drawing a parallel between the Messiah's suffering and that of victims of suffering in today's world. But just as the figure stands alone in Jackson's image, so the Suffering Servant will one day be singled out by God to reign in Zion." 

It's interesting to note that the vellum is slightly translucent (you can see the text on the other side of the page showing through). Since the vellum is made from calfskin, you can also see imperfections in the sheets on some of the page corners. There are also some of the artists' notes in pencil in nearly every top and bottom margin!

After the Fire (Elijah's Theophany), Donald Jackson: "The passage illuminated here is one of the most beautiful accounts in the Old Testament of an encounter with God. Elijah, God's prophet, has escaped Jezebel and has been fleeing and hiding for forty days. As he is resting overnight in a cave on Mount Horeb (also known as Sinai), a voice tells him to go outside the cave because God will be passing by. We are told that there was a great wind, an earthquake and a fire, and God was not found in any of them. Finally, there was a sound of sheer silence where God was found in the calm and quiet. Elijah depicted in green, the color of the prophets used in The Saint John's Bible, goes out to meet the Lord in silence. The silver bars depicting the silence are subtle and one must be still and attentive to witness them."

You'll notice a lot of shimmering silver and gold on the pages of this Bible. Rest assured, it is real gold and platinum leaf that will not tarnish over the next 1500 years that this Bible is meant to last.

Wisdom of Solomon, Hazel Dolby: "The story of two women, each claiming to be the mother of one child, is probably the most famous account associated with Solomon. The episode exemplifies the depth of Solomon's wisdom, the one gift the king previously asked from the Lord. In this illumination, pain and darkness are reflected alongside the words of Solomon's wisdom. The gold division cuts through the darkness with the tip of the sword dividing the space in two. The textured, dark, brooding background reveals the complexity of the situation while Solomon's compassion glimmers with gold. His people held Solomon in awe, and the contrasting textures and colors demonstrate this."
Psalms Book V Prontispiece, Donald Jackson: "Superimposed on this image are digital voice prints (electronic images of sound) of sung chants, hinting at the way we might 'see' psalms if they are sung or read poetically. The voice prints come from recordings of the monks at Saint John's Abbey singing Gregorian chant; a Native American sacred song; a Jewish men's chorus singing psalms; Bhuddist tantric harmonics; an Islamic call to prayer (adhan); Taoist temple music; Hindu bhajam; and an Indian Sufi chant. The voice prints of the Saint John's monks appear on every page, moving horizontally throughout the Psalms in gold. The voice prints of other traditions run vertically throughout the pages with the scroll designs."
Demands of Social Justice, Suzanne Moore: "Amos' prophecy urges his people to repent of their sins of social injustice caring for the poor and the downtrodden. Their failure to do so, according to Amos, will be their own undoing, which comes to pass with the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE. ..."
"... The admonition, 'Yet you did not return to me,' here highlighted in a special treatment, is repeated often in the text as God warns of the consequences of their choices, disobedience and corruption. Through Amos, God promises swift justice for the unrighteous, as well as redemption for the poor and oppressed. The illumination is fractured into seven unruly pieces punctuated by the repeated text. The green, blue, and black panels, representing sky, sea and earth, are chaotic and not fruitful..."
"... The depiction ends with an abstract locust in the right margin, the curse of farmers from antiquity to the present. Social justice is a main theme in Amos, and the fractured words also refer to the ways injustice and inequality fracture society. God is a God of compassion; people have a choice, and yet they turn from God and do not put in place a society that welcomes."

You can really see the character of the vellum in the picture of the locust!

to be continued...

In the next post, I'll share some more pictures, captions and things I learned from the museum!

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