Saint John’s Bible finds permanent home

The Saint John’s Bible project has been ongoing since the abbey commissioned calligrapher Donald Jackson to create it back in 1995.

The handwritten pages of the Bible were finished in 2011 and have been traveling around the world since then. But they haven’t had a permanent home until now. The permanent gallery for Bible opens to the public Oct. 6.

Pages of the Saint John’s Bible displayed on glass pedestals appear to float.

Located in the lower level of St. John’s University’s newly renovated Alcuin Library, the gallery displays original folios from the seven volumes of the Bible.

“What we have here is finally a beautiful, fitting home,” said Tim Ternes, director of the Saint John’s Bible project since 2001.

The gallery is really an archival display vault, designed to be climate-controlled with low lighting to create a sacred space, he said.

“This is a major metropolitan museum quality exhibition,” he said. “Our goal was to create something that would be world-class, right here in central Minnesota.”

Saint John’s Bible director Tim Ternes explains how the materials used to create the Bible have been used for centuries and have proven to be the best quality.

The still unbound pages are displayed in glass cases on glass pedestals that are almost invisible. The pages appear to float.

“I wanted to create an exhibition where when you walk in what you see is the pages of the Bible, not frames, not cases. … You are wrapped in this beautiful collection of handwritten pages,” Ternes said.

The opening exhibition includes a cross-section of all parts of the Bible from beginning to end and examples of each of the six artists’ work and each of the six calligraphers’ work. Twenty-eight of the Bible’s 1,127 pages will be on display at a time.

To give historical context, the gallery also includes displays of planning sheets used by Jackson and his team, rough drafts and tools.

Since all of the Bible’s pages are not on display, visitors to the gallery can see all of the pages in an interactive, high-definition presentation on large screens — one at the back of the gallery and one outside the gallery near the main entrance.

“This allows you to really explore any page of the Bible, volume by volume,” said Ternes.

Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7) by artist Thomas Ingmire is one of the pages featured in the opening exhibit.

There also is a video room where visitors can see interviews with more than 30 people that have been involved with the project over the years.

The gallery will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and admission is free. It will also be open Saturday, Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. for homecoming weekend. 

About Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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