On display in the O’Grady Library is a copy of the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition, the first handwritten, illuminated Bible created since the invention of the printing press more than 500 years ago, where the public can view an illuminated document and learn more about its link to Benedictine history.

An illuminated Bible

The Saint John’s Bible – commissioned in 1998 by Saint John’s University and completed in 2011 – is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible created since the invention of the printing press more than 500 years ago. The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition was commissioned  “to ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world.” The original Saint John’s Bible is housed at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. That it came from Saint John’s is of great significance for us, since monks from our fellow institution in Minnesota, traveled west to found Saint Martin’s in 1895.

The Heritage Edition is a full-size, fine art reproduction of the original seven volumes. Only 299 sets were created, and Saint Martin's is the sole institution in Western Washington to own one. The 73 books of the Old and New Testaments have been collected in seven volumes: Gospels and Acts (2002), Pentateuch (2003), Psalms (2004), Prophets (2005), Wisdom Books (2006), Historical Books (2010), and Letters and Revelation (2011).

This remarkable artistic creation fuses contemporary themes and technologies with centuries-old techniques and materials. Page layouts and line breaks were designed on a computer. The pages themselves are calfskin vellum, and the script was written with goose, turkey and swan quills dipped in lampblack ink made from rare nineteenth century Chinese ink sticks. Hand-ground pigments - vermillion, lapis lazuli and others - were combined with egg yolk and water to form paints for the illuminations, which were embossed with gold and platinum leaf. The illuminations were created with traditional techniques, but incorporate contemporary themes and images.