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The Saint John's Bible at ACU

Who was responsible

The Bible is a collaboration between theologians headquartered in Minnesota, United States, and a team of 20 artists under the direction of Donald Jackson operating from his scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales. Jackson, a renowned British calligrapher, is the official scribe and calligrapher to the Crown Office of the United Kingdom. The project fulfilled Jackson’s childhood dream to create a hand-written, illuminated Bible.

The creation process

The pages of the original edition of The Saint John's Bible are made from calfskin or vellum, while artists used hand-cut quills from the feathers of geese, turkeys and swans to inscribe the text. Ink for the text is derived from Chinese ink sticks which are ground to a powder and combined with water. The vivid colours used to illustrate the Bible are attained through crushing minerals and stones, which are then mixed with egg yolk and water to create paints. Illumination of the Bible is achieved through the application of gold leaf.

To find out more about the materials and processes used in the production of the Bible, please visit The Saint John's Bible website.

Equipment used

Artists' tools and materials

Quills and artists’ colours lie on a table next to a fragment of illumination from the Gospel according to Matthew. Donald Jackson uses tools and materials of every description in the making of The Saint John’s Bible. The red vermillion cakes were made in the 1870s and are used for the red bullets and footnotes throughout the Bible.

Image: Copyright © Michael Freeman, Michael Freeman Photography, London, England

Artist working on the book of Psalms

Sally Mae Joseph applies gesso over a frisket stencil in preparation for the gilding of the small squares and rectangles which appear throughout the book of Psalms. Once the gesso has dried and the gold has been laid and burnished, the frisket is pulled away, leaving perfectly sharp edges. This new technique gives Sally tremendous control gilding the geometric shapes.

Image: Copyright Derek Evan, HUW Evans Agency, Cardiff, Wales

The work in progress

 Artist Donald Jackson at work

Donald Jackson works at his tilted desk in the Schoolroom.

Image: Copyright Michael Freeman, Michael Freeman Photography, London, England

How long did it take?

In 1998, Saint John’s Abbey and University in the United States commissioned The Saint John’s Bible – the first hand-written and hand-illuminated Bible to be commissioned in almost 500 years. The project was completed in 2011. The Bible comprises seven volumes which were finished at various stages.