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The Saint John's Bible art exhibit is 'something to see'

Creation, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2003, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

There had not been a handwritten Bible commissioned in some 700 years when The Saint John's Bible was commissioned, said Kay Fritz, local calligrapher.

Planning and work began on The Saint John's Bible in 1995, and the last word was written in May 2011.

The Saint John's Bible was written on vellum using quills, natural handmade inks, hand ground pigments, and gilded with gold leaf, silver leaf and platinum. It is a modern, English translation (New Revised Standard Version) with contemporary scripts and illuminations.

The River Falls Public Library will host an exhibit on The Saint John's Bible, titled "The Art of The Saint John's Bible" from Jan. 10 through Feb. 12.

Fritz's connection with the Bible goes back to when the project began. Fritz was good friends with Jo White, one of the originators of the idea of commissioning a Bible to be handwritten in a historical style with historical materials, with a modern translation and contemporary scripts and illuminations.

When Fritz found out that it would be possible to bring an exhibit on The Saint John's Bible to River Falls, she suggested the idea to Library Event and Gallery Coordinator Cole Zrostlik, who pursued the idea.

Fritz is excited to see the exhibit and share it with residents.

"There's beautiful illustrations throughout the book," Fritz said. "It's just so amazing to see."

Fritz said a new font was created just for The Saint John's Bible, which the calligraphers all used.

It is "unbelievably" difficult for calligraphers to write in a uniform font like this, Fritz said, so that the letters are all written in the same way.

"If you do calligraphy and you do a poem for someone, that's eight lines long, you probably write it 40 times," she said, often due to mistakes. There is no backspace button or eraser in calligraphy.

In traditionally calligraphed Bibles, Fritz said, the monks who dedicated their lives to scribing the works could scrape a mistake off of vellum, and would put an illustration over the marks on the other side.

Fritz said her husband's family sponsored a page, donating $2,500 to cover the cost of creating a page. Fritz said the materials, such as the vellum and the gold silver and platinum helped drive up the cost of creating the Bible.

The Bible was commissioned, Fritz said, by Saint John's Abbey and University. It's creation was directed by Donald Jackson, who was senior scribe to Queen Elizabeth's Crown Office at the House of Lords. According to an informational pamphlet by Saint John's University, Jackson proposed the Bible project in 1995.

Jackson worked with a team of calligraphers and artists to create the manuscript of The Saint John's Bible, which is 1,165 pages long with 160 major illuminations.

The team worked with a committee of theologians, scholars and artists from Saint John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota.

The pages are 24.5 inches by 15 and 7/8 inches. The pages form seven volumes, and have been completed, but have not yet been bound.

Prints on display at the River Falls Public Library will give a sampling of about 160 illustrations from The Saint John's Bible. The prints on display will show a sampling of the illuminations.

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Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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