Illuminated Bible on Display

March 20, 2014

Saint Leo University welcomes visitors to University Campus to come view a special display of The Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned since the invention of the printing press. On exhibit are two of the seven volumes of The Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible. The Heritage Edition is a limited edition of full-size facsimile reproductions of The Saint John’s Bible. The two volumes are on loan to the Saint Leo community (including Saint Leo Abbey and Holy Name Monastery) throughout 2014. The university wants to make people aware that these impressive works of sacred art are on display in the lobby of the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library, where it is easy for visitors to see and appreciate them.

“I would say awe is the first word that comes to mind,” as people look at the volumes, “and wonderment for sure,” says Sister Dorothy Neuhofer, O.S.B., Ph.D., who serves as the Saint Leo University archivist and special collections librarian, and who played an instrumental role in getting the texts to campus.

The response is partly owing to the stunning and masterful calligraphy, all done by hand. Secondly, the display always has at least one of the volumes opened to a significant illumination (pictured) of a passage in the Scripture. Other pages also feature smaller, less detailed illuminations. Sister Dorothy finds it fascinating to look at the illuminations and to be drawn into the text, and then contemplate what moved the artist to select one passage over another. That train of thought can naturally lead one to reflect more deeply on the content of the Scripture, Sister Dorothy says, which is what was intended by the work’s creators. The term for such holy reading and reflection, she says, is “lectio divina: You don’t just read the words, you let them penetrate your mind. You reflect on them.” With the prominence of this display in the library lobby, visitors, students, and faculty, are thus offered an opportunity to pause during their day for this spiritual refreshment from The Saint John’s Bible, Sister Dorothy explains. Pages of the text are turned to new illuminated passages on a regular basis.

The display also represents a window into church history. The Saint John Bible harkens back to the Christian centuries before the printing press was invented, when monks copied the Scripture by hand. The Saint John’s Bible is the first Bible of this size commissioned in more than 500 years, and is named for Saint John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota. The abbey and university are Benedictine institutions and jointly commissioned the project. (Saint Leo was also founded by Benedictines, so a natural kinship exists between the institutions.) A full Bible encompasses seven volumes. In addition to the original work, The Heritage Edition was created, comprised of only 299 facsimile reproductions of The Saint John’s Bible. It is from The Heritage Edition that Saint Leo was able to borrow two volumes in honor of an important anniversary – the 125th anniversary of the founding of Holy Name Monastery, Saint Leo Abbey, and the university.

The two volumes on display at Saint Leo are copies of the Pentateuch, which refers to the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuternomy) and Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and Acts from the New Testament. Some of the illuminations include the Garden of Eden, the birth of Christ, and the Crucifixtion. The Saint John’s Bible presents the Scripture in the New Revised Standard Version translation. The oversized volumes are leather-bound, two feet in height, and are displayed securely in custom-built, oak-and-glass display cases crafted by Saint Leo Plant Operations staffer Rob Garland. The cost of the materials for the cases was underwritten by donations from Dick ’68 and Karen Johnson, Peter ’67 and Susan Salesses, and the Margaret C. Hundt Charitable Fund.

The Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library’s regular opening time is 8 a.m. The closing time varies, according to whether it is a Saturday, Sunday, or weekday. Consult this calendar for specific hours when planning a visit: http://saintleo.libguides.com/calendar. Also note the library is closed on Good Friday, April 18, and Easter Sunday, April 20.

Those who would like to speak to a librarian when visiting The Saint John’s Bible may schedule an appointment in advance by reaching Sister Dorothy at dorothy.neuhofer@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8496, or Carol Moon, outreach librarian, carol.moon@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8261.