Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Saint John Bible and Contemplative Landscape
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- I’ll jump at any chance to drive up to Santa Fe, New Mexico from my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As one of America’s great cities and cultural centers, Santa Fe is unique and stunning; it’s a pleasure to take in the sights, sounds, and tastes, not to mention the galleries and beautiful geography.
For those not familiar with the St. John’s Bible, a little background is in store.
According to the website dedicated to the Bible, “In 1998, Saint John’s Abbey and University (both in Minnesota) commissioned renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible…that unites an ancient Benedictine tradition with the technology and vision of today…”
Donald Jackson was born in Lancashire, England in 1938. As the official scribe and calligrapher for the Crown, Jackson has acted as the artistic director of the Bible from its inception.
Then, in the early 1990s, Jackson saw the monks of Saint John's Abbey interacting with the Gospels for Sunday Mass. Because of their devotion to the Bible, Jackson recognized that the monks could act as an inspiration and catalyst for the creation of a new illuminated manuscript. In 1995, Jackson presented the idea of the illuminated Bible to them.
According to the St. John’s website, an illuminated text is the fulfillment of a dream for Jackson.
“From childhood, Donald Jackson dreamed of creating a hand-written, illuminated Bible. In 1995, he communicated that ambition to Eric Hollas, OSB, a monk at Saint John's Abbey and then-director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. Father Eric brought the idea to the monks, and they embraced Jackson's dream. In Wales, at Jackson's scriptorium, and in Collegeville, Minnesota, among a community of monks living according to the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict, the dream of a masterpiece in art and biblical scholarship took shape.”
In 1998/1999, the St. John’s Bible was officially commissioned, and on Ash Wednesday, 2000, Jackson wrote out the first words of the St. John’s Bible, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” taken from the gospel of John.
The St. John’s Bible was born.
The photographic exhibition highlights the work of Tony O’Brien, whose 1994-1995 yearlong retreat at a New Mexico monastery forms the heart of his new book, Light in the Desert: Photographs from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert (Museum of New Mexico Press).
Tony O’Brien is an award-winning photographer from New York, who has called Santa Fe home for over 30 years. He began his photography career in 1973 working at The Santa Fe New Mexican, the Santa Fe Reporter, and the Albuquerque Journal.
Verve Magazine stated, “His work has appeared in national and international publications: Life Magazine, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, German Geo, as well as Ford Foundation magazines Corrections and Police. He has also worked with the Ford Foundation on a land use project on Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico as well as a water works project in the 'colonias' along the Texas border for the Pew Foundation.”
Tony gave a pre-exhibit discussion with Christopher Merrill, co-author of the book, Light in the Desert. The discussion between the two men was illuminating, with much dialogue comparing O’Brien’s stay in an Afghan prison (as a journalist) to his year at Christ in the Desert Monastery. Overall, Merrill asked poetically infused questions (he is a noted poet), with O’Brien giving elusive, but honest answers concerning his stay in the monastery.
One thing is certain: The photos taken by O’Brien at the monastery are amazingly beautiful, worthy of further attention and contemplation.
In addition to the showing of O’Brien’s works and portions from the St. John’s Bible, the exhibit highlighted the process of creation for the St. John’s Bible, focusing in on calligraphy, watercolor, fonts, and bookbinding.
As an example of the history of book making, the exhibit displayed several other historical Bibles (Book of Hours, a folio page from a Guttenberg Bible, and a first edition King James Bible).
As a bibliophile in the book business, the book history portion of the exhibit whet my appetite; I was left craving more.
The St. John’s exhibit featured original pages from the Wisdom books and the Prophets, giving the viewer an up-close look at the calligraphy work and artistic design. It was a privilege to view the intricate work and dedicated artistry given by the contributors to the St. John’s Bible.
Concerning the exhibit, Tom Leech, curator, stated, “I consider this to be the artistic equivalent of the Apollo moon mission. The Saint John’s Bible sets a standard of excellence in the 21st century that will never again be approached in our lifetimes. Combined with Contemplative Landscape, it offers visitors an opportunity to witness a historic burst of creativity and craftsmanship, and to reflect on their own spirituality, whatever form that may take.”
Throughout the year, the New Mexico History museum will host various lectures and workshops coinciding with the St. John’s Bible exhibit, including a lecture by Donald Jackson on Monday, November 7.
For more information on the Saint John’s Bible, go to the website at http://saintjohnsbible.org.
For the current exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum, click here http://www.nmhistorymuseum.org.
If you’re in the Santa Fe area over the next year, do yourself a favor: attend the exhibit and be inspired!
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