Thursday, April 18, 2013

Morgan Library Celebrates Completion of New Illuminated St. John's Bible

The Morgan Library and Museum celebrates the completion of a fully illuminated bible commissioned by St. John's University in Minnesota.

The "St; John's Bible"  was created with traditional materials and techniques, along with modern technology. Calligrapher Donald Jackson was commissioned to produce a fully illuminated luxury manuscript of the bible. Working out of his scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales, Jackson and a team of calligraphers and artists used traditional techniques and modern technology to create a spectacular illuminated text of over 1,100 pages. Completed in May 2011, The Saint John’s Bible ensures that the ancient art of illumination—so richly represented in the Morgan Library & Museum’s collections of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts—lives on into the 21st century.

Facsimiles of the manuscript, including the lavish seven-volume Apostles Edition, issued in only twelve copies, were published. From May 7–Aug. 25 the Morgan will display its Prophets volume from the Apostles Edition, as well as one of Jackson’s preliminary studies for the Gospel of John frontispiece, on loan from the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. The Prophets volume, containing 232 pages and 20 illuminations, will be opened to reveal an illuminated depiction of the prophet Isaiah.

The presentation will be displayed in the Marble Hall of the Morgan’s 1928 Annex building. Visitors will have the opportunity to compare these modern illuminated works with their medieval origins when, beginning May 17, Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art, goes on view in an adjacent gallery.

In 1995 Donald Jackson expressed his lifelong dream of creating a hand-written, illuminated Bible to Eric Hollas, OSB, a monk at Saint John’s Abbey and then-director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. Between 1996 and 1997, Saint John’s University explored the feasibility of the Bible project, Jackson created preliminary samples, and theologians developed the illumination schema. The Saint John's Bible was officially commissioned in 1998.

Jackson and his team relied on computers to size the Bible’s text and define line breaks, allowing the calligraphers to work on pages simultaneously. The manuscript’s pages are made of calfskin vellum, and soaked in lime, dried, scraped, and sanded smooth, in the traditional manner. The script—designed by Jackson—was written in lamp black ink from nineteenth-century Chinese ink sticks. It was applied using quills hand-cut by the scribes; goose quills were used for the main body of text, and turkey and swan quills for heavier letterforms. The manuscript’s vibrant colors were derived from vermillion, lapis lazuli, and other pigments. These materials were mixed with egg yolk and water to create a thick paint, which was then loaded onto the quills using brushes. Artists applied gold leaf by blowing through bamboo tubes, activating the binding agent in gesso until it bonded with the leaf. Burnishing tools and brushes were then used to finish the gilded images.

The Saint John's Bible uses the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation of the Bible, the version officially authorized for use by most Christian Churches. In addition to traditional biblical imagery, the Bible also features depictions of modern events and scientific discoveries: strands of DNA are woven into the illumination of the “Genealogy of Christ;” the Twin Towers appear in the illumination of Luke’s parables; and photos from the Hubble telescope were used to depict Creation.

When completed, the Apostles Edition will comprise seven folio volumes containing more than one thousand pages and 160 illuminations. Each page measures 15 ¾ x 23 ½ inches, extending to 2 x 3 feet when opened.

Jackson is one of the world’s foremost Western calligraphers. As a scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, he was responsible for the creation of official state documents. Jackson is an elected Fellow and past Chairman of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators and, in 1997, was named Master of the 600-year-old Guild of Scriveners of the city of London. He and his wife, Mabel, live and work in Monmouth, Wales.

The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Avenue, at 36th St., NYC. Tuesday–Thursday, 10:30 am to 5 pm.; extended Friday hours, 10:30 am to 9 pm.; Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm.; Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm. Admission: $15 for adults; $10 for students, seniors (65 and over), and children (under 16); free to Members and children 12 and under accompanied by an adult. Admission is free on Fridays from 7 to 9 pm.

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Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light ( and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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