This summer, East Texans have the chance to see something that has not been done in almost 500 years. On display at the Tyler Museum of Art are parts of the Saint John's Bible -- a hand- written, illuminated version of the Holy Bible.
When you see the St. John's Bible you understand why some call the is the most extraordinary undertaking of our times. Since the invention of the printing press some 500 years ago there has not been a project quite like the St. John's Bible.
The project was commissioned by the Benedictine monks at St. John's Abbey and St. John's University in Minnesota. Donald Jackson, a renowned calligrapher and scribe to the Queen of England, was hired to put the project together.
The artists and scribes who work on this project use the same tools like original quills and hand ground paints. The Bible is written on calf skin and precious minerals, stones and 24-carat gold are used for the illuminations. It is the illumination that brings that combines the old art form with events of present day.
"It is rather complex," says TMA Head of Education Bob Thompson, as he showed an illumination of five parables. "It shows five different parables and a story combined here. Where you see the diagonal lines it is a separation of the stories. The first one up there is the lost coin. Parable of the lost coin. The second one where you can see the little sheep there is parable of the lost sheep. The third one is the parable of the good Samaritan. And the fourth one right down here is the parable of the prodigal son. And the fifth one is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. You can see Lazarus in the arms of Abraham and then this side over here we have the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus. All of these are stories about forgiveness. And the final act of forgiveness if we can do it is this image in gold, we can see the twin towers, which for us in America is a big forgiveness."
The Tyler Museum of Art is the only museum in Texas who will feature the St. John's Bible. On display here is the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible, the Gospels, Acts and Psalms. Other books of this work are still being completed. It could be another year or two before it's finished.
The word most often heard here since the exhibit opened is surprise, surprise that the hand-written scripture and gold-laid illumination for many is more than just a work of art.
"Today, we tend to want to consume the Bible the way we do every other book. So we read the Bible like we do the newspaper. We read, then we study it and we might memorize that verse then we are done with it. This draws you in to contemplating the individual words," says TMA Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Jan McCauley.
"It is a spiritual, it is very much a spiritual experience for many of the people who see it. Even non-Christians have found it to be a very spiritual experience. Of course the Pentateuch is common to many religions so many people have come through this so it is not just Christians who have been enlightened by it. Many others have been as well. But I think particularly the area that we live in, Christians have been, believers have been lifted and surprised, which is great and made to see things in a different light than they have seen before."
When the Bible is completed it will be 1,150 pages in seven volumes and will have cost about $4 million to create. Being the first of its kind in centuries, the monks who commissioned this project pray this will be a work that will inspire and enlighten generations to come.