Chris McDonnell: The St John’s Bible, Minnesota

 The St John’s Bible, Minnesota

La Croix July 16th 2021


We have, in our small village parish church, the seven volumes, all now commercially available, of the St. John’s Bible, the original MSS being in St John’s College, Minnesota in the United States. It is placed in a wooden cabinet in front of the Font as you come into church, with a display lectern available for reading the text. It is a most beautiful piece of craftsmanship. The artwork is simply stunning.

The St John’s Bible

Saint Benedict taught that all tools, however humble, should be handled with the care given to the sacred vessels of the altar. For centuries, this ethic has been embodied in Benedictine life and work.

The Benedictine monks of Saint John’s Abbey arrived in Minnesota in 1856. In 1965, Saint John’s revived the Benedictine tradition of manuscript copying by establishing a library dedicated to the photographic preservation of singular documents. Forty years and 100,000 manuscripts later, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library holds in trust the largest collection of manuscripts in the world.

By commissioning The Saint John’s Bible, the Abbey and University brought 1,500 years of Benedictine religious and creative experience together with their conviction that manuscripts are uniquely privileged media for expressing humankind’s deepest memories and aspirations. With keyboards everywhere, how many of us pen a letter or write any extended piece of work by hand? It just doesn’t happen. Yet this text, hand-written though it is, used extensively modern computing techniques to achieve something beautiful.

As Senior Scribe to Her Majesty the Queen’s Crown Office at the House of Lords, Donald Jackson had reached the pinnacle of his profession. But for years he had an unrealized dream: to write the Bible by hand. Saint John’s Abbey and University dared to imagine with Jackson an illuminated Bible for the 21st Century, a Bible handwritten in English. In his scriptorium in Wales, Donald Jackson assembled a team of scribes and artists who shared this vision. In bringing it to life, they have used only materials associated with enduring manuscripts: carefully prepared calfskins, hand-cut goose quills, century-old inks, and precious metals.

On April 28th 1998, Donald Jackson and Brother Deitrich Reinhart OSB, signed the Contract which officially launched The Saint John’s Bible. Donald used a quill pen and brilliant red ink. Together they embarked on a collaboration that would last almost a decade. The St John’s Bible is a modern manuscript book, the first hand-written Bible since the printing at Gutenburg in the 1450’s. Written in Latin, the Gutenberg Bible is an edition of the Vulgate printed by Johannes Gutenburg, in Mainz, Germany. It recaptures the spirit of the great medieval Bibles, yet it expresses an awareness of contemporary artistic experience. It treats the theology of the text with the same sensitivity to modern awareness.

The St John’s Bible is a reflection of the monastic devotion to the Scriptures. The painstaking work of making the Bible echoes the slow meditative reading which is a hallmark of Benedictine life and Spirituality. Back and forth across the Atlantic, the exchanges on text, style and artwork continued over a number of years till, with its conclusion, it now finds a home with the Benedictines in Minnesota.

Placing it where it is in our parish church, next to the font, reminds us that Scriptural texts are at the foundation of our faith. If you haven’t come across it, check out the website details below.   Published in seven volumes: >Gospels and Acts, >The Psalms, >The prophets, >Wisdom, >The Pentateuch, >Letters and Revelation and  >History books. 

Web site:

The full story of the production of the St John’s Bible is told in the book Illuminating the Word by Christopher Calderhead. It is well worth reading.

Published by Liturgical Press United States  2005

ISBN-10: 0814690505 ISBN-13: 978-0814690505



Similar Posts

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.