Joslyn reopening and extended version of St. John’s Bible
October 3, 2019
Throughout the year the Joslyn Art Museum, located just across the street from Central, hosts numerous special exhibitions that show off different works of art to the city of Omaha. One of their upcoming exhibitions, Word and Image: St. John’s Bible described by Dr. Taylor Acosta, the Associate Curator of European Art at Joslyn, as a “a contemporary masterpiece of medieval craftsmanship” will be displayed at the museum beginning on October 5th until January 19th.
St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota commissioned the creation of St. John’s Bible to be made by British calligrapher Donald Jackson in 1998. He worked on the Bible for 13 years at his studio in Wales. The St. John’s Bible combines the methods of the Benedictine monks in which they used “traditional manuscript materials, such as handmade inks and writing quills, ground pigments, gold leaf, and calfskin vellum,” to handwrite all the text on each page of the 1,100-page book with the incorporation of “contemporary imagery and events to connect traditional medieval craftsmanship with the twenty-first century” along with a modern translation of the Bible and the use 21st century technology for page layouts. It is divided into 7 volumes; Gospels and Acts, Pentateuch, Psalms, Prophets, Wisdom Books, Historical Books, and Letters and Revelation.
The story of the St. John’s Bible that will be shown at the Joslyn in October actually started hundreds of years before Jackson began his work. After movable type print came into use, western Christianity had almost entirely abandoned the practice of creating handwritten Bibles. For over a thousand years prior to movable type, Benedictine monasteries had assumed the position as the creators as well as protectors of Bibles in addition to other books. For five hundred years, Bibles were almost exclusively made through printing which is what makes St. John’s Bible unique. It is “the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Monastery since the invention of the printing press” half a millennium ago.
Although the exhibition is titled after The St. John’s Bible, it will also display works from various rare books and manuscripts including the Koran as well as other faith traditions. According to Dr. Acosta, the museum is “excited to engage community members of all faith traditions, both through the exhibition and through the numerous programs we are planning!”. She hopes “The Saint John’s Bible ignites the imagination by reviving tradition and offering challenging observations about the nature of faith and communication in the twenty-first century” and “that visitors will be inspired by the artistry and craftsmanship of this magnificent Bible.”
This is actually not the first time that The St. John’s Bible will be shown at Joslyn. In 2006, a limited version of the exhibition called “Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible that included unbound folios from three volumes of the Bible” was hosted at the museum. At the time, the Bible was only partially completed. On October 5, the Joslyn Art Museum is “pleased to share unbound folios from all seven volumes that make up the Old and New Testaments.” as well as a “selection of rare books and manuscripts, including Books of Hours and manuscript Korans that will be on loan from the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library” to be available to Omahans for four months.