News Column

Handwritten Bible at center of new Knights of Columbus Museum exhibit

May 31, 2014

By Joe Amarante, New Haven Register, Conn.



May 31--NEW HAVEN -- As with most projects in art or religion, the new exhibit at the Knights of Columbus Museum proves to be deeper and more enlightening than it sounds: "Illuminating the Word: The Saint John's Bible" is centered around a hand-written Bible.

Uh-huh. What else you got?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

The Saint John's Bible, completed in 2011, is some 1,150 pages, measures 2 feet wide by 16 inches tall, is divided into seven volumes and took 15 years and 23 professional artists and scribes to complete.

"It's a magnificent work of art," said Peter Sonski, education and outreach manager at the 1 State St. museum that is free and open seven days a week.

The K of C Museum is one of the Elm City's quiet gems, ideal for Catholics, but appreciated by others for its art and history.

And what's more old-school in an age of "smartphones" than a handwritten Bible? Heck, young people probably think that "cursive writing" means profane graffiti.

Sonski said the work is so large that it will never be bound into one book to be leafed through. The museum is exhibiting about 68 pages (in two-page "folios" that have writing on front and back) in various display cases, but you can also buy a fine-art version in seven volumes for thousands of dollars or smaller replicas online or in the museum gift shop for much less.

The origin? Donald Jackson of Wales, modern-era calligrapher to the queen of England, aspired to create a monumental work involving the Bible, said Sonski at the museum last week.

"Bibles, of course, have not been handwritten in more than 500 years, since the printing press was introduced," Sonksi said. Jackson pitched the idea to a community of Benedictine monks at St. John's University and Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., who saw it as a "wonderful project to transition from the 20th to the 21st century."

A version of the exhibit has toured in a few other places, but this will be a first for the Northeast, running from Monday through Nov. 2.

A wall outside the three display rooms of the exhibit shows Jackson and the team he put together -- calligraphers, artists, illuminators -- who would devise, copy (in the chosen script/font) and illustrate the book -- on vellum (calfskin) parchment with gold leaf.

"Everything is organic," said museum curator Bethany Sheffer, "so there's no synthetic materials at all in the making of this."

It's a throwback to when monks in their monastic settings wrote and copied from one manuscript to the next in preserving what they believe is the word of God.

Sonski said this English translation is a widely used one that is not exclusively Catholic or Protestant.

"It's done the same way medieval manuscripts were done," said Greg Jallat, curatorial assistant, "but just with a modern aesthetic."

Workers on Thursday were busy toiling with signs, backlit walls and other display elements, but officials promised it would be ready to go on the first weekday in June.

The exhibition also includes sketches, drawings, a video, inks and tools used in its production -- offering insight into the ancient art of printing on parchment.

One cool sidelight of the handwritten Bible involves a few mistakes in handwriting. If a calligrapher made a mistake and omitted a line of text (discovered later by proofreaders), "they added a line here," Sonski points out at the bottom of one page. "And then the artists created a way in which the reader would insert that line" by drawing a bird lifting the line to its intended spot, or a monkey with a pulley system.

The third room of the exhibit features smaller copies of the seven volumes for people to sit with and read.

The Knights of Columbus Museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free.

Related events will take place through Sept. 20, including a talk by Tim Ternes, director of the St. John's Bible project, June 14 and 15 at 2 p.m. each day.

___

(c)2014 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

Visit the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) at www.nhregister.com

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Source: New Haven Register (CT)


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