‘Back to the Future’ with the Saint John’s Bible

Hopefully you’re already familiar with the Saint John’s Bible, a collaborative project commissioned by the monks of Saint John’s Abbey here in Collegeville. Last week, Gregory Wolfe, founder of Image and director of the MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University shared a compelling report, which might be of interest.

Visitors view a display of the Heritage Edition at Carson-Newman University in Tennessee.

Wolfe gives a brief synopsis of the process undertaken by the Abbey and the Bible’s artistic director, Donald Jackson, scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who had a vision and dream to create the first hand-lettered and illuminated Bible in generations.

The Benedictines embraced Jackson’s vision. The completed Saint John’s Bible consists of seven oversized volumes in which nineteenth-century Chinese ink, along with gold and platinum leaf, have been applied to vellum. From Genesis to Revelation there are 160 painted illuminations as well as dozens of key texts that have been visually enhanced.

The monks knew that the project couldn’t end there—otherwise, they would have been accused of merely reverting to the medieval model—trapping a sumptuous Bible behind monastic walls. So a hardcover trade edition quickly followed.

What happened next, however, has made all the difference. The decision was made to produce something called the Heritage Edition, a fine art version that mimics the original in almost every way, including size—two feet by three feet—and embossed gold and silver foil.

Wolfe recently was part of a group presentation exploring the Gospel and Acts volume of the Saint John’s Bible. He related the group’s reaction to the work, and his own.

What I felt at that moment was that the scripture was profoundly other—beyond my control—but also intensely present—and I immediately noted how it bound everyone in the room together. I’ll continue to read the Bible on my iPad, but I’m grateful for a reminder that a book can be both a physical and a spiritual thing.

You can read Wolfe’s entire post at Patheos, The Saint John’s Bible: Back to the Future.”

If you’re looking for your own way to interact with the Saint John’s Bible, the best way might be to visit a university or other nearby institution that has acquired a Heritage Edition. There are many such options, all of which are listed below.


Arizona State University | Tuscon, AZ

Assumption College | Worchester, MA

Austin Public Library | Austin, MN

Australian Catholic University | Sydney, Australia

Azusa Pacific University | Azusa, CA

Brigham Young University | Provo, UT
Carson-Newman University | Jefferson City, TN

Chaminade University | Honolulu, HI

Clarke University | Dubuque, IA

College of Saint Mary | Omaha, NE

Diepenbrock-Santa Clara University | Santa Clara, CA

Diocese of Venice | Venice, FL

Fairfield University | Fairfield, CT

Franciscan Renewal Center | Phoenix, AZ

Gonzaga University | Spokane, WA

Gustavus Adolphus College | St. Peter, MN

Hill Museum & Manuscript Library | Collegeville, MN

John Carroll University | Cleveland, OH

Kansas State University | Manhattan, KS

La Roche College | Pittsburgh, PA

Loyola University of Maryland | Baltimore, MD

Loyola Chicago | Chicago, IL

Loyola Marymount University | Los Angeles, CA

Marquette University | Milwaukee, WI

Mayo Clinic | Rochester, MN

Morgan Library (Apostles Edition) | New York, NY

Mount St. Benedict Monastery | Crookston, MN

Mount St. Mary Seminary | Emmitsburg, MD

Naples Museum of Art | Naples, FL

New South Wales Library | Sydney, Australia

Oakland Cathedral | Oakland, CA

Pepperdine University | Malibu, CA

Regis College | Toronto, ON, Canada

Regis University | Denver, CO

Sacred Heart Hospital & Mayo Clinic Health Systems | Eau Claire, WI

Saint Agnes Medical Center | Fresno, CA

Saint John’s Episcopal Cathedral | Albuquerque, NM

Saint Joseph University | Philadelphia, PA

Saint Martin’s University | Lacey, WA

Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame | Notre Dame, IN

Saint Peter’s College | Jersey City, NJ

Samford University | Birmingham, AL

St. Hubert/Holy Family | Chanhassen, MN

St. Martin-in-the-Fields | London, England

St. Bartholomew Church | Wayzata, MN

St. Catherine University | St. Paul, MN

St. Mary’s University of Texas | San Antonio, TX

St. Mary’s University College | Calgary, AB, Canada

University of St. Thomas | St. Paul, MN

University of Dayton | Dayton, OH

University of Mary | Bismarck, ND

University of Michigan | Ann Arbor, MI

University of Minnesota | Minneapolis, MN

University of Portland | Portland, OR

University of Victoria | Victoria, BC, Canada

Vassar College | Poughkeepsie, NY

Vatican Library | Vatican City

Vatican Museum of Art | Vatican City

Visitation High School | Mendota Heights, MN

Wayzata Community Church | Wayzata, MN

Yale University | New Haven, CT




6 responses to “‘Back to the Future’ with the Saint John’s Bible

  1. Timothy McCormick Avatar

    I love the Saint John’s Bible. I also have been greatly inspired by the number of books that have come out to support it, most notably Fr. Patella’s and Susan Sink’s. One thing that would be great, if Liturgical Press could do it, would be to publish a beautifully bound NRSV Bible including the Illuminations from the SJB. What a wonderful resource for prayer it would be!

  2. Will Elliott Avatar
    Will Elliott

    Tim (#1),

    The Liturgical Press does offer a home edition – often referred to as “The Trade Edition” of The Saint John’s Bible: http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/Products/CategoryCenter/STJB!BM/Books-And-Media.aspx

    I have the Trade Edition at home, along with the complete “The Art of The Saint John’s Bible” by Susan Sink.

    [full disclosure: I work at a Catholic institution that has The Heritage Edition and on the team that displays the volumes on and off campus.]

  3. Timothy McCormick Avatar


    Ah yes, I do own a couple of those volumes myself. They are very nice, and I use them in my classroom. I was thinking something more along the lines of an actual one volume Bible with the Illuminations placed as inserts throughout the NRSV text where appropriate. The NRSV text is quite beautiful and could be enhanced by the addition of the Illuminations and other things connected to the SJB. I think it would also be helpful to include Mass readings for Sundays, truly making it a lectio (and visio) divina style Bible. Just dreaming out loud a bit! 🙂

  4. Will Elliott Avatar
    Will Elliott


    Now I understand what you meant. The original Committee on Illuminations and Text did a wonderful job deciding what illuminations and text treatments to include in the original SJB. I would hate to have the job of deciding what to exclude from single-volume home edition SJB 🙂

    Since LP publishes a SJB Book of the Gospels, a full SJB Lectionary might work. Not sure just how thick it would have to be.

    1. Bruce Janiga Avatar
      Bruce Janiga

      @Will Elliott – comment #4:
      Unfortunately the SJB uses the NRSV which is no longer allowed for use at Mass in the USA. Though personally I’d like to have an NRSV with the major illustrations from SJB for my library if it were not cost prohibitive.
      I was one of the donors of the project and am very pleased with the final result. While not all the artwork is my taste, I recognize it as quite an achievement and a great way to get people talking about the Word.

  5. Bob Hoyt Avatar
    Bob Hoyt

    What I do wish is that SJU would publish individual illuminations in the Heritage Edition quality. I have purchased a few of the others, but it would be nice to have individual illuminations available guilded, for example.

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