Welcome to The Saint John’s Bible at Transfiguration
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration welcomes The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition – a fine-art replica of the first hand-written and illuminated Bible in English since the Middle Ages – to the greater Dallas and North Texas area.
Transfiguration is eager to welcome churches, schools, and community groups to experience The Saint John’s Bible. Visitors can contact the church to schedule time with a trained docent to guide them through the manuscripts. The Rector of Transfiguration, the Rev. Casey Shobe, says, “I marvel at the grace made known through human skill, and I am confident that all who encounter this Bible will encounter God.”
In 1998, the Benedictine monks of Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota commissioned Donald Jackson, the official scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, to create a handwritten Bible to celebrate the new millennium. The work took 15 scribes and artists working on two continents nearly 13 years to complete. Smithsonian Magazine hailed it as “one of the extraordinary undertakings of our times,” and Pope Benedict XVI described it as a “work for eternity.”
There is the original manuscript located at Saint John’s Abby in Minnesota. Then there are 299 sets of the Heritage Edition. The set at Transfiguration is number 115 of those 299.
It was written on calfskin vellum using turkey, goose and swan quills. The team of scribes used natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments, and gold and silver leaf gild.
The relationship between an illustration and an illumination is subtle. An artist’s illustration is their interpretation and representation of something. An illumination is a work that opens a window in the beholder’s mind to find deeper meaning. Jackson’s process in preparing to illuminate a passage was similar to the monastic practice of Lectio Divina, a careful mulling over the text, looking at the details, thinking, meditating, and letting it sink in.
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was selected by theologians and scholars at Saint John’s University as the translation for The Saint John’s Bible. It was selected because its predecessor, the Revised Standard Version, had gained the distinction of being officially authorized for use by most major Christian Churches: Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.
The Making of The Saint John’s Bible
In 1998, Saint John’s Abbey and University commissioned renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible. We invite you to explore this work of art that unites an ancient Benedictine tradition with the technology and vision of today, illuminating the Word of God for a new millennium.
The Saint John’s Bible is a singular achievement: the complete text of the Bible, written on calfskin vellum using traditional tools and inks. As a work of sacred art, it ignites the spiritual imagination of all those who view its pages. It stands alone.
The facts behind the monumental task to craft this masterpiece are concisely presented in the Saint John’s Bible Media Fact Sheet.
It quickly became evident that the beauty, richness, and inspiration of The Saint John’s Bible should not be limited to those able to see the original pages in a museum setting.
The Heritage Edition
Because of the Heritage Edition, a masterpiece in its own right, people around the world can experience The Saint John’s Bible. Limited to 299 seven-volume sets, the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible is true to the scale, beauty, and artistic intent of the original manuscript. Number 115 of the 299 sets, the 8th set in the Lone Star State, is available for you to experience at Transfiguration.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the Heritage Edition would not have been possible even when The Saint John’s Bible project began in 1998. It was not until very recently that the quality of printing on 100% uncoated cotton paper necessary to providing this level of quality was available. The paper of the Heritage Edition is designed specifically for this project. The weight and feel of the pages approximate that of the vellum used in the original manuscript.
Donald Jackson directed the making of the Heritage Edition throughout every process to assure its fidelity to the original. The pages are printed using state-of-the-art offset lithographic printing technology from Heidelberg Corporation. Mr. Jackson approved every page before final printing. Correspondence to the original is so important that even the “show-through” caused by transparency in the vellum is captured on the pages of the Heritage Edition.
After printing, gold and silver foils are applied using a series of stamping and embossing processes. In places where results cannot be achieved through mechanical means, Donald Jackson’s studio manager, Sarah Harris, has hand treated the illuminations. Therefore, no two Heritage Edition sets are identical.
The volumes are bound—by hand—in a single piece of Italian calfskin leather and adorned with a solid silver clasp. Each head band and tail band is hand sewn in Pakistan. Each volume is numbered and initialed by Donald Jackson, and protected in a burgundy clamshell box.
A 16-page publication describing the seven volumes of the Heritage Edition is now available from The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program for viewing and download. Click here to view it.
A Video Introduction
- The contents of this page are taken with minor modifications from https://saintjohnsbible.org/
How The Saint John’s Bible Came to Transfiguration
When, in early 2022, Elaine Culver first encountered the illuminations of The Saint John’s Bible, it reminded her of the first stunning pictures from the Webb Space Telescope. “The illuminations suggested that God was starting a conversation with me. He was asking what do you think?” she said. “The pictures of the universe from the Webb Telescope were so stunning, and I thought, ‘The creator of those things wants my opinion.’ It was such a different way of looking at it.”
Through the generosity of long-time parishioners Frances & Bob Martin and Elaine & Bruce Culver, the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration now possesses a Heritage Edition copy of The Saint John’s Bible, one of fewer than 300 that will ever be produced.
The Bible was commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey and University, a 168-year-old institution located in Collegeville, Minnesota. The original manuscript, believed to be the first illuminated handwritten Bible commissioned in 500 years, was the idea of Donald Jackson, senior scribe to the British Crown. Jackson, born in Lancashire, England, conceived the idea as a child, publicly proposed it in 1970 and persuaded Saint John’s officials to commission the project in 1998. The first volume was completed four years later; the seventh and final volume in 2011.
There was a reason it took such a long time. Directed from a scriptorium in Wales, the calligraphers wrote each word with quill pens fashioned from goose, turkey or swan feathers. Each of the 1,150 pages took 8-12 hours. Each page was scripted on costly vellum.
Even more striking than the script are the 160 illustrations. The illustrators used gold and silver leaf and other precious metals mixed with egg yolk. They incorporated images of women and of minority groups, who had often been ignored in the past, and they included themes of modern science and technology. An illustration depicting hell, for example, includes a depiction of the AIDS virus. A worker sowing grain wears blue jeans.
The completed manuscript now resides at Saint John’s University in Collegeville. It has not yet been bound so that pages of the original can be publicly displayed at venues around the world. When the vellum pages are finally bound together into seven volumes, the original will remain at Saint John’s University.
Aware that the intent was never to create a museum exhibit, the brothers of Saint John’s puzzled over how to share this remarkable work with the world. “If we created the original and then squirreled it away, few people could have experienced it,” said Brad Neary, director of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program. The brothers approached Donald Jackson with a request to create a limited run of high-quality replicas that could be purchased by churches, hospitals, schools, and families which would allow greater numbers of people to encounter The Saint John’s Bible.
After extensive discussions and careful research on the best methods that could be used to reproduce faithfully the handwritten Bible, Donald Jackson agreed. Cotton paper was used instead of vellum; foil instead of gold or silver leaf. Each volume is full-sized, hand-sewn in linen, bound in Italian leather, with each of the major illuminations individually finished, so that each copy is unique. The quest for authenticity was almost obsessive. For example, the vellum in the original manuscript is so translucent that an illumination on one page shows through on the other side. Modern cotton paper blocks such show-through, yet Donald Jackson insisted that the effect be recreated in the Heritage Edition volumes. Thus, each Heritage Edition is printed with a faint watermark that mimics this effect.
Father Casey and Mother Rebecca both had been aware of the existence of The Saint John’s Bible for several years. Father Casey had encountered the Heritage Edition at a conference several years ago; Mother Rebecca first encountered it at a conference earlier this year. “Every illumination took my breath away,” she recalls. “I was awestruck. I thought, ‘We must have this!’” Returning to the display table several times over the course of that conference, she and Fr. Casey learned about a program: “A Year With The Saint John’s Bible” which would afford Transfiguration the opportunity to have the volume containing the Gospels and Acts, together with speakers from the Saint John’s community, over the course of one year.
Fr. Casey approached long-time members, Frances and Bob Martin. They loved the idea and readily agreed to underwrite our participation. Their generosity in purchasing the Bible for a year allowed a group from Transfiguration to visit Collegeville in May of this year to learn about the history and creation of the manuscript and illuminations.
While they were there, over a dinner hosted by Mr. Neary and the staff of The Saint John’s Bible, Mrs. Culver said she discussed the acquisition of a Heritage Edition with Fr. Casey and Mtr. Rebecca. “I told Fr. Casey, ‘I think Transfiguration needs one of those.’”
As Mr. Neary remembers it, he had left the table for just a few moments. When he returned, he sensed that something had happened. “Casey had a Cheshire cat look on his face,” Neary recalls. That’s when he learned that Mrs. Culver had just informed him of the couple’s decision to donate the funds to acquire our Heritage Edition.
By July, the Transfiguration volumes arrived. The Martins and the Culvers were invited to join Mtr. Rebecca and other members of the staff in a small crate opening ceremony. On Transfiguration Sunday this August, the Gospels and Acts volume made its debut in our Sunday morning services. It has been used regularly for Sunday worship since then.
Seven custom-made display cases have been installed in our Gathering Space to serve as the permanent home for our Heritage Edition. The cases are made of wood and steel, with a modern design that reflects the architecture of the Transfiguration campus and its philosophy.
“It wouldn’t do to have a marble platform,” said Senior Warden, Mark Ramsay, who oversaw the creation of the displays. “We are a modern, forward-thinking, and progressive parish, and The Saint John’s Bible, which includes illuminations featuring the roles of women, science, and global equality, is also progressive.”
Within its display, each volume will sit on a platform, angled at 20 degrees to protect its spine, encased in glass on the top and sides. The objective is that the glass protect without serving as a barrier. Lighting within and around the display cases will allow the illuminations to reflect light as they are designed to do.
In September, Mr. Neary journeyed to Dallas to conduct a three-hour training session for about 20 church members who will serve as docents. The docents were given instructions about how to handle the volumes, how to turn the pages and, especially, how to answer questions from visitors.
The acquisition has put Transfiguration in distinguished company. Other copies — only about 150 have been acquired so far — are housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, the J.P. Morgan Library in New York, Saint Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, and the Vatican Library in Rome.
With the acquisition of our Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, Transfiguration has access to digitized images of each illumination, speakers from the Saint John’s community, and hopes to become a destination for other churches, schools, and community groups seeking to encounter this remarkable Bible.
Ways to Experience The Saint John’s Bible
At Transfiguration the inspiration of God found in Scripture is what fuels our mission to seek and serve Christ in all persons. To that end our Church, our buildings and our worship, strive to reflect that focus in art lovingly crafted and music performed to the Glory of God so that each person can find the pathway best for them. The confluence of these holy spaces with the uniqueness of The Saint John’s Bible offer you various ways to experience the sacred.
During celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion or The Lord’s Supper, The Saint John’s Bible is used for the reading of the Gospel Lesson. Usually, it is carried in procession from the Altar to the middle of those assembled in worship. From that spot, in the midst of God’s People, the Gospel is read.
In addition to its role in our Sunday services, special worship events are offered. During the season of Advent, the four Sundays leading to Christmas Day, we held a reading of the Gospel of Matthew in its entirety. Members of our parish family took turns reading a chapter aloud from The Saint John’s Bible.
The seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible are located in the Gathering Space near the MacMaster Library containing over 2600 books for both adults and children. In addition to experiencing the volumes of The Saint John’s Bible, you can immerse yourself in additional study through the Library’s many resources.
A short walk through the Tower Cloister, the Kay Andrew’s Bookstore offers a wide selection books and gift ranging from Bibles, Prayer Books, and Hymnals to a variety of books appropriate for study, meditation and your general reading pleasure!
Transfiguration is primarily a place of prayer and worship. Before the Gathering Space welcomed the arrival of The Saint John’s Bible, it was known for its Labyrinth. Now the Labyrinth is enhanced by the presence of the volumes of illuminated scripture. You are invited to walk the Labyrinth as a part of your experience with the Bible. It is appropriate that the entry point of the Labyrinth is located at the base of the case displaying the Gospels and Acts.
In addition to the Labyrinth, the Nave of our Church welcomes you to avail yourself of its peacefullness for prayer. The Sacrament is present, as well as, votive stands at the icon of Our Lady and the shrine of the Holy Family. Many find prayerful inspiration in the beauty of the Triptych of the Transfiguration.
The Memorial Garden is accessible from the Library and the hallway in the Tower Cloister. It’s a perfect location for meditation and prayer in a garden setting.
The illuminations found in The Saint John’s Bible can serve as icons opening your mind to deeper possibilities than one may find in the words that surround them. The experience of reading the ancient words and gazing upon the masterfully contemporary illuminations allow you to wander in the wonder of your imagination. Coupling one’s experience of The Saint John’s Bible to worship, study, and prayer can open the door to an experience that may call you to visit more than once.
We have a dedicated team of trained volunteers who serve as Docents. Their ministry is to be your hosts during your interaction with The Saint John’s Bible. Whether to present information; open display cases; assist you to turn the pages, read the words, and wonder at the illuminations; or answer questions, they stand ready to be your guide.
Plan Your Visit
We want to share this amazing experience with you. We are happy to welcome individuals, as well as, groups to experience The Saint John’s Bible. We do ask that you let us know of your intention to visit so that we can insure that our Docents are prepared to host you and your group. Send us a message letting us know of your desire to visit and one of our staff members will contact you to make arrangements.
The Dedication of
the 115th Heritage Edition of
The Saint John’s Bible | May 7, 2023 at 5:00pm
As the Transfiguration Family we are incredibly fortunate to be one of the few houses of worship where The Saint John’s Bible is in permanent residence. We have set aside Sunday, May 7 at 5:00pm to formally dedicate this gift to the Glory of God. There will be prayer, hymns, psalms, and readings from each volume of The Saint John’s Bible. Join us following the service for a reception. Mark this date and plan to join us for this once-in-a-life-of-our-parish event.
- Master Dechlan Barrow
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Parishioner
- Mr. Brad Neary
The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program, Director
- Reverend Camilia Williams
Abundant Life AME Church
- The Rev. Dr. Samira Izadi Page
Gateway of Grace, Executive Director
Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Vicar
- Rev. Victoria Robb Powers
Royal Lane Baptist Church, Senior Pastor
- Rt. Rev. Peter Verhalen, O.Cist.
Our Lady of Dallas Cistercian Abbey, Abbot
- Rev. Dr. Neil G. Thomas
Cathedral of Hope, Senior Pastor
Dedication Service Participants:
- The Rt. Rev. George R. Sumner, VII Bishop of Dallas
- The Rev. R. Casey Shobe, D. Min., Rector
- The Rev. Rebecca Trankerley, Senior Associate Rector
- The Rev. Terrence C. Roper, Rector Emeritus
- The Rev. Michael Meriman, Priest Associate
- The Rev. Amy Heller, Priest Associate
- The Rev. Ted H. Clarkson, Jr., Curate