Biblical proportions: Hand written St. John’s Bible on display at Carson-Newman
Preparing the seven volumes of the St. John’s Bible Heritage Edition for a month-long exhibition on campus are Carson Newman University staff clockwise from left, Mary Leidig, executive director, university relations; Rev. Chad Morris, assistant director, campus ministries; Karen Milligan, associate professor of education; NeNette Measels, director, campus ministries; and Jule Rabun, associate professor of art.
On Thursday, Carson-Newman University will debut a portion of the school’s exhibit of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition at First Baptist Church of Jefferson City.
The school will join a limited number of institutions world-wide to house a rare, full-size artistic reproduction of The Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten and illuminated Bible in 500 years, for a month-long exhibit that is open to the public at no charge.
Smithsonian Magazine has called the work “One of the extraordinary undertakings of our time.”
First Baptist doors will open at 5 p.m., and the public is invited to view two of the seven volumes that will be available that evening. Beginning on Friday, Sept. 27, C-N will exhibit all seven volumes, along with 10 framed prints featuring artwork from the project through Oct. 25 in the University’s Ted Russell Hall.
“Because this monumental project is igniting the spiritual imagination of people all over the world,” C-N President Randall O’Brien, said. “We are excited to be the first institution to bring The Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible to Tennessee. The opportunity to witness how God’s Word has inspired these gifted artists is one that is sure to be memorable,” said O’Brien, adding, “While this will serve as a valuable and inspirational resource for our students and professors, this exhibit is for anyone wishing to come and experience this timeless work of sacred art.”
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Tim Ternes, director of The Saint John’s Bible at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota, will present an in-depth look into the 12-year historic project and its results.
One of only a few locations in the Southeast to exhibit the work, C-N joins a select group of universities, organizations and museums to house the Heritage Edition volumes including Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Calif.; Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Fla.; and the Vatican Museum of Art, Rome, Italy.
The school came about hosting the exhibit by way of a staff member.
“One of our music faculty (Dr. Clark Measels, professor of music, and director of the Ball Institute of Church Music) visited St. John’s University, came home and told his wife (Rev. NeNette Measles, director of Campus Ministries), ‘You need to know about this NeNette,’” said Dr. Donald Garner, professor of religion. “Then they brought it back to our president, who just went right after it.”
“This is a perfect fit for Carson Newman and an opportunity to bring it into to this region. We’ll be the first university or institution in Tennessee to have it, so we’re pretty proud of that,” said Julie Rabun, CNU associate professor of art.
The project has been described as a work of art that illuminates the Holy Text in a contemporary design for the 21st century. A fine art reproduction of the original, which is housed at St. John’s University in Minnesota, the Heritage Edition is the result of a process that engaged the finest printing experts and binders to ensure faithful representation of the manuscript.
The entire project was overseen by Donald Jackson, the senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Crown Office at the House of Lords in London, England.
“As a graphic designer, I was blown away,” Rabun said. “It’s just phenomenal what they did. They, of course, had to grapple with some differences. The original is on calf skin vellum, which has a kind of semi-translucent quality – you can nearly make out the image on the next page as you turn, if there is a large illumination with lots of color — which is part of the experience that is important. So Donald Jackson wanted to keep the integrity of the original. The volumes of the Heritage Edition are printed on 100 percent cotton paper: it is fantastic; it’s heavy, it’s luscious.”
“It was all printed by a family paper mill in New Hampshire. They used quality control in all caps,” Garner said.
“The paper is opaque,” Rabun said. “To mimic the calf skin, they printed a ghost image backwards. It had to be just the right ghost image, so as not to interfere with the page.”
There were numerous levels of color printed on a number of pages; in addition 160 illuminations were added. After the printing, a single artist added a thin layer of gold and silver foil in key areas, Rabun said.
“Illumination is the play of light as its hits the gold and silver,” Rabun said. “All those little attention to details make each volume really special. There is not any one of these reproductions that are the same. They are all unique. It is really extraordinary what they were able to accomplish.”
“It really affords people with a new experience; even those well-versed in the Bible will, I think, find something new,” Garner said.
“The way in which they allowed the six artists on the project, illuminators, to use their own voice to interpret the passages they were working with — you get a modern kind of thing that comes through; a modernized version of the Bible that, with regard to the illuminations, people have never thought of it that way.
The seven volumes that make up The Heritage Edition are approximately two feet tall by three feet wide when open and weigh about 20 pounds each. Limited in number, each is signed and numbered.
Following the month-long exhibit, C-N will then house two volumes, the Pentateuch and Gospels & Acts, for the next year, displaying them for the public.
“People will be able to touch the volumes,” Rabun said. “People will have an experience with this; part of that is to turn the pages and see what the gold and silver will do. If people will take the time, make the effort to come and spend a little time in the room with these; they will feel it is time well spent and that they really did have an experience that is memorable. People will think about the Bible in a new way, including children and families, and people of all belief systems. I think there is something in this for everyone. Childhood is so much about wonderment; that is what is in here.”
“They get to see it on their own terms; it is not pre-interpreted for them,” Garner said.
“We’ve been so inspired by this extraordinary work of art and the potential it has to really inspire our students, no matter their discipline,” Rabun said. “I think our ultimate goal has shifted from having it one year, to raising enough funds to purchase a set of our own.”
For more information about the St. John’s Bible Heritage Edition exhibit, and to sign up for personal or group tour, visit www.cn.edu.
-By Glenna Howington, Tribune Staff Writer