Donald Jackson, with Andrew Jamieson and Sally Mae Joseph, To the Ends of the Earth, c. 2002.

Chris Tomlin, with Donald Jackson, Milkweed and Butterfly, c. 2002.

Illuminating the Word

The Saint John's Bible

"The American Book of Kells." Newsweek.

"One of the extraordinary undertakings of our times." Smithsonian magazine

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is thrilled to be the only Canadian host for Illuminating the Word: The Saint John's Bible, the first handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago. A richly ornamented masterwork, hand-illustrated with gold leaf on oversized vellum, the Bible is an unprecedented undertaking in contemporary book arts and a major cultural and interfaith endeavor. Measuring 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, it contains 1,100 pages bound in 7 volumes.

Commissioned by Saint John's Abbey and Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, The Saint John's Bible is a contemporary work created in the great tradition of handwritten medieval manuscripts such as the Book of Kells. The seven-year project was headed by Donald Jackson, one of the world's foremost Western calligraphers, and scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Crown Office at the House of Lords.

Scribes and artists have written and illuminated The Saint John's Bible entirely by hand, using quills and paints hand-ground from precious minerals and stones such as lapis lazuli, vermilion, malachite, silver, copper, and 24-karat gold. The elaborate and exacting process used to produce the manuscript is highlighted in the exhibition. .

There are 60 works in the exhibiton, including pages from the first 3 completed volumes of The Saint John's Bible: Pentateuch (the first five books of Jewish and Christian scripture), Gospels and Acts, and Psalms. Giving viewers a sense of of how these magnificent works were created, the exhibition includes original artist sketches and a worktable from the scriptorium displaying quills, hand-ground pigments, calfskin vellum, and ancient inks from China. A fully-developed interpretive area examining the techniques used accompanies the installation

Theologians from Saint John's Abbey and University and the College of Saint Benedict worked with consultants from other faiths to provide theological briefs that direct the interpretation of scripture in the illustrations. The illuminations reflect a multicultural world and humanity's enormous strides in science, technology, and space travel. Because the project is an interfaith undertaking, the Bible incorporates imagery from Eastern and Western religious traditions, as well as influences from Native American cultures.

The illuminated passages are innovative and creative, infusing multi-disciplinary and scientific advances into traditional subjects. For example, one illumination depicts the Earth as seen from space, a contemporary interpretation of our place in the universe. The global perspective is examined in the exhibition through examples of sacred texts from non-Christian religions and artwork from the special collections of Saint John's University.

Learn more about the Saint John's Bible at


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