Archived Story

St. John’s Bible, in Austin, almost unbelievable

Published 11:40am Monday, October 31, 2011

Call me a bibliophile: I hold in excess of 10,000 books in my personal library. Call me a Bibliophile: among them are over 100 bibles. Call me an antiquarian: Last month I drove to Wheaton College in the Chicago area to view an exhibit of rare bibles and manuscripts, which were not in the larger presentation of the Green Collection I had seen in Oklahoma City in June. Some years ago I drove to Grand Haven, Michigan, to spend a day in the Van Kampen Collection. Now here is something really impressive: Yesterday I hurried back from an orchestra concert in Chicago to see one of the most magnificent presentations of the Bible in the world—at the Austin Public Library.

If you were not present, you should get there soon to look at the seven volumes of the Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible. I had not yet seen Volume Seven, Epistles though Revelation, but I had gone to St. John’s Abby in Collegeville to see the earlier produced volumes, and I have been receiving their published releases on the project ever since. It never occurred to me these would come to Austin. But here they are.

St. John’s Abby commissioned the entire Bible be reproduced by the ancient art of calligraphy and printed in limited editions with handcrafted ornamentation. This is process is how for centuries monks produced copies of the Bible to be read in churches around the world. The modern difference is once one set was done by hand, copies are now able to be printed.

The man with overall responsibility for this production is Donald Jackson, and he began his work in 1998.

However, only 299 sets are printed, and the project is locked into this number. Others sets are in or will be in such prestigious sites as Kansas State University, Marquette University, the Mayo Clinic, Pepperdine University, St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, University of Michigan, Vassar College, and the Vatican (both in the library and in the museum).

Such heterogeneous locations evidence the wide appeal of the Saint John’s Bible. It is of obvious religious significance, not just for Christians but for Jewish people (to the extent the first and larger portion is also Hebrew scriptures). To be of greatest practical value to readers of all languages worldwide, the universal English translation is used. Not the Latin of earlier Roman Catholic bibles, but the New Revised Standard Version, approved by protestant churches as well as the several catholic churches, was chosen.

Saint John’s Bible is of broader, even secular, significance and interest as the most widely read piece of literature in any language and the most influential book ever published (or hand-copied). Moreover, it is of tremendous historical and artistic significance.

The English word “Bible” is simply a transliteration of the Greek word “biblos,” which means “book.” There are many books, but there is only The Book.

These volumes are not the popular pocket size or even the big pulpit size. When opened, each spans two feet by three feet. They will be on permanent display in our library in a dedicated case and set out a volume at a time.

Of these, Library Director Ann Hokanson says: “It’s an amazing opportunity for the community” and “It will have a lot of wide appeal to book lovers.” More personally, Hokanson exclaimed: “When I saw the books in person, I was blown away. I have never seen a more beautiful book in my life.”

I am at a loss to bring up from deep within my soul the emotion and awe I sustain for this edition. I urge you not to settle for my inadequate words, but to visit the library and then stand before the display case. With eyes open drink in all you can. Then close your eyes, travel through the centuries, and think about what you just saw. Right here in Austin, Minnesota 55912.

The Austin Public Library struggles valiantly to stretch its inadequate acquisitions budget to give us as many books, periodicals, and multimedia items as possible. But it could never scrape together the $145,000-price for the Heritage Edition. This comes through the remarkable gift of Austin residents Don and Dorothy Hodapp. I judge this to be one of the most sensitive and profound gifts to the public I have seen. This bibliophile says, Thank You.

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