Beginning in 1970, master calligrapher Donald Jackson expressed in media interviews his lifetime dream of creating an illuminated Bible. Following a Saint John's-sponsored calligraphy presentation at the Newberry Library in Chicago in 1995, Jackson discussed a handwritten Bible with Fr. Eric Hollas, OSB, former executive director of the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Between 1996 and 1997, Saint John's explored the feasibility of the Bible project, Jackson created first samples, and theologians developed the illumination schema. The Saint John’s Bible was officially commissioned in 1998 and funding opportunities were launched. The public was introduced to the project in 1999 and it is scheduled to be completed in 2009.
The Saint John’s Bible is seven volumes and two feet tall by three feet wide when open. The Bible is made of vellum, with 160 illuminations, and has cost $4 million to produce. The version of the Bible used is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Donald Jackson, official scribe of Queen Elizabeth II, created a new script specifically for this project.
The creators of The Saint John's Bible use a mixture of techniques used in the creation of older illuminated manuscripts (hand-written with quills on calf-skin vellum, gold and silver leaf and hand-ground pigments and inks) and modern technology (platinum leaf, and computers used to plan the layout of the bible, and line-breaks for the text).
The Saint John's Bible consists of seven volumes:
The Heritage Edition of The Saint John's Bible is the full-size reproduction of the original. Measuring two feet tall by three feet wide when open, it is the exact size of the original manuscript. Making this reproduction unique as a manuscript facsimile is the fact that it will be signed by the chief scribe and illuminator, Donald Jackson. The edition is limited to 360 signed and numbered sets and contains the same seven volumes as the original. In addition, an eighth volume of commentary that places The Saint John's Bible in its historical context and describes several of the illuminations will accompany the volumes. It is in pre-publication through June 30, 2008, and available for subscription.
Early in the marketing campaign, the commission responsible for The Saint John’s Bible made the claim that it would be the first hand-written bible in 500 years to the best of their knowledge. The commission was then made aware that several other bibles had been completed within the time frame, and in Spring 2004 (between the April and May mailings of advertising for the Bible), the phrase “commissioned by a Benedictine Monastery” was added to the advertising and official website.