In 2017, St. Jerome’s University participated in a program called, A Year with the Saint John’s Bible. It was especially appropriate given that our patron saint, St. Jerome, made a significant contribution to Christianity with his vulgate Latin version translation of the Bible. We were privileged to have two Heritage Edition volumes (of the seven volumes that make up this Bible) on campus, along with ten framed prints, and access to the digital images of the beautiful illuminations.
Saint John’s University created A Year with The Saint John’s Bible to give institutions a way to experience the Saint John’s Bible for a full year.
Our year included a number of events: beginning in January with an ecumenical prayer service that included colleagues from Renison University College, Conrad Grebel University College, and Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. A number of our public Lectures in Catholic Experience focused on the Saint John’s Bible. We partnered with the Diocese of Hamilton to host an event at the Royal Botanical Gardens called, “Bugs in the Bible.” Two of our English professors, Drs. Chad Wriglesworth and Norm Klassen, designed a course called ‘The Sacramental Imagination,” which was inspired by the Saint John’s Bible. The CBC Radio program, Tapestry, prepared an entire program on the Bible that aired in June 2017 and featured Dr. Cristina Vanin, Associate Dean and lead for the Year. “I am thrilled that more people are hearing about this beautiful work of art,” Vanin says. “Its commitment to hospitality for all, transformation, justice, and to reaching across religious and cultural boundaries, is inspiring and healing.”
Throughout the year, Vanin made numerous presentations about the Saint John’s Bible to elementary and high schools in a number of the local Catholic school boards; local Christian churches; university groups such as the Newman Centre in Guelph; university classes from the University of Waterloo, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, and St. Jerome’s University; as well as to many individuals who came to the University to see the Bible.
Our closing event was an amazing Kitchener-Waterloo community affair. Under the direction of Conrad Grebel University professor, Dr. Mark Vuorinen, The Grand Philharmonic Choir sang the Messiah, accompanied by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Digital images from the Saint John’s Bible were projected on a screen behind the choir. Vuorinen acknowledges that this performance “is a striking convergence (of) illuminations from a hand-written Bible, created in the tradition of the 16th century, meeting an 18th century oratorio, and performed in the 21st century.”
The illuminations were prepared and animated by University of Waterloo English professor, Dr. Marcel O’Gorman of the Critical Media Lab, and his graduate student, Julie Funk. As they describe it: “For us, this project is about translating a complex literary text into a moving picture. It’s a dance between old and new media, big books and big data projectors. You might think of the Messiah performance this year as a sort of ‘slow media’ performance. It’s a safe place for calm contemplation amidst the city noise of shopping, traffic, and construction.”
In addition, Christie Digital, Dejero, and Sherwood Systems provided in-kind support and technical expertise. The concert was live-streamed at Kitchener City Hall during the annual Christkindle Market, and the Diocese of Hamilton made all of their Heritage volumes of the Saint John’s Bible available for view in the Center in the Square lobby.
“We were all taken in by this amazing work of art,” Vanin says. “It has brought so much life to our campus. The number of faces that have come up to see this Bible as I’ve turned pages, and to see people be so moved by this Bible, has been a privilege for me this year.”
What is the Saint John's Bible?
The Saint John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible since the invention of the printing press more than five hundred years ago. It was commissioned by the Benedictine community at Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and was created by Donald Jackson, Senior Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office, along with an international team of calligraphers and artists.
The Saint John’s Bible was made using traditional materials such as vellum (calfskin), ancient inks, gold and silver leaf and platinum, and was written with quill pens fashioned from goose, turkey and swan feathers.
With its 160 major illuminations, the Saint John’s Bible reflects three particular Benedictine values and biblical themes: hospitality, conversion of life, and justice for God’s people.
It is a Bible for the 21st century. Strands of DNA and magnified images of viruses are woven into illuminations. You will see images from the Hubble telescope, mandalas, patterns from Middle Eastern and South Asian textiles, images from aboriginal rock paintings, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and much more.
The mission of the Saint John’s Bible is to ignite the spiritual imagination of people from all faith journeys. To that end, Saint John’s University created the Heritage Edition to spark the imagination of individuals, institutions and communities around the world.
An extension of the original work, the Heritage Edition is the only full-size, limited, signed, and numbered fine art edition that will ever be produced. In all, 299 fine art editions have been created and placed in religious, arts, academic, healing and literary institutions around the world, including the Diocese of Hamilton.
Grand Philharmonic Choir used digitized images from The Saint John’s Bible for performance
Illuminating Handel’s 'Messiah'
Messiah is a beloved Christmas tradition, but this year it was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
Along with the timeless beauty of Handel's music, breathtaking images of handcrafted illuminations from the Saint John's Bible were animated and projected alongside the Grand Philharmonic Choir. Two volumes of the Saint John’s Bible were on display at St. Jerome's University for the year.
“This is 16th century right to the 21st century,” said the choir’s artistic director, Mark Vuorinen.
“St. Jerome’s approached me almost two years ago now and said it was coming and said is there any way we can collaborate,” he said. “Could we do a multidimensional, multimedia kind of presentation of a very familiar work with awe-inspiring and breathtaking images.”
Vuorinen worked with the Critical Media Lab at the University of Waterloo and its director, Dr. Marcel O’Gorman.
“Right away, I said this is great,” said O’Gorman, as it tied directly into his research on digital abstinence. “This massive, seven-volume, hand-transcribed book is a great thing for me to be studying at the same time. It’s a pretty conspicuous analog object in a world full of digital distractions.”
O’Gorman enjoyed the challenge of working with the illuminations, which themselves are their own multimedia items: the interaction between image and text mark the complex beauty of the paintings within the Saint John’s Bible.
Vuorinen did not want the two different art forms to compete, but rather be symbiotic. “The Messiah is so familiar and so beloved by so many people, we didn’t want create something that takes away from the musical performance,” he said. “There are a lot of interesting parallels here between visual arts and musical arts. In the case of Handel, he’s treating those texts with music while these illuminations are treating the texts with artwork. The result is that people can reflect on and be inspired by these texts in different ways than if they were just to read them on the page.”
The evening featured partner Christie Digital, who projected the images, and accompanied the Christkindl Market at Kitchener City Hall. All seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible were on display in the lobby of the Centre in the Square, courtesy of the Diocese of Hamilton.