The Saint John's Bible will be the first bible in 500 years to be completely written in calligraphy.

This $3 million project was inspired mainly by the vision of one man - Donald Jackson, calligrapher to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Jackson is the artistic director of the team of calligraphers, illuminators and other artists who will spend around 6 years working on the bible.

The Saint John's Bible will be completed in English, using goose quill pens on vellum, in a script especially designed by Jackson for the project. The bible is expected to consist of over 1,150 pages in seven volumes, and to be nearly 2 feet tall by 16 inches wide. Jackson and his team will ornament the bible in the style of the medieval illuminators - with gilding, decorated initials and illustrations.

Begun in early 1999, completion of the project is expected to be around 2004. Commissioned by Saint John's University, Collegeville, in Minnesota, USA, the work is being completed in a scriptorium in Wales. The version of the bible to be produced is a translation known as the New Revised Standard Version - widely used among both Catholics and Protestants.

While Jackson and his team will use ancient techniques to achieve their vision, they plan to add a contemporary feel to some of their illustration. This is not a new practice: medieval monks showed Old Testament characters in what was at the time very modern clothing, and in very European landscapes. Donald Jackson plans to illustrate the bible with flora and fauna catalogued by the monks of Saint John from the prairies near the abbey. It is very possible that some more quirky illustrations will find their way onto the pages. In addition, theologians have been consulted in the order of stories in the bible. Emphasis has been given to stories about compassion and justice, as well as stories about women.

While only one hand-written copy of the work will be made, Saint John's is considering producing a limited edition of 100 copies of the work, at the same size as the original but printed on paper. At around $60,000 to $80,000 each, they should recoup some of the staggering cost of the project. Also being considered are a television documentary, coffee-table book, etc.

To any calligrapher, this work is overwhelming both in its artistic significance, and in the sheer manpower that will be required. A modern day Book of Kells - the Saint John's Bible should attract pilgrims in its own right. This is a very, very exciting project! See their official website: for updates and further information.

Update: A replica of the first volume of the St. John's Bible (four gospels and the acts of the apostles) was presented to Pope John Paul II in Rome in May, 2004.


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