Baylor University Acquires ‘Fully Illuminated’ Heritage Edition of Saint John’s Bible

June 25, 2019

Rare Bible fosters community involvement with Baylor Libraries

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-6275
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by Brooke Hill, student newswriter, Baylor University Media and Public Relations

WACO, Texas (June 25, 2019) — Baylor University Libraries has acquired a limited Heritage Edition of the Saint John's Bible, the first hand-scripted, fully illuminated version of the Bible made on vellum since the creation of the printing press more than 500 years ago.

The Heritage Edition features 160 illuminations that weave together the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation, igniting the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world and illuminating the Word of God for a new millennium. The volumes are housed at Central Libraries Special Collections.

"The Saint John's Bible is a masterwork of art, illumination and the Word of God," said John Wilson, interim dean of Baylor Libraries. "It offers a unique opportunity for the Baylor Libraries to become part of a select group of institutions that will preserve this treasure for decades to come."

The original unbound edition created in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was commissioned in 1998 by Saint John's Abbey and University in Minnesota. It was designed and created by Donald Jackson, internationally renowned calligrapher and former senior scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, and his hand-selected team of artists and scribes, using quills, natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments and gold leaf while incorporating modern themes, images and technology of the 21st century.

"Not just a copy"

Baylor acquired the 105th Heritage Edition out of only 299 that were created. The Heritage Edition series features the only full-size, hand-bound, signed and numbered fine art editions that will ever be produced. Each volume – measuring 2 feet by 3 feet each – and its 1,115-plus pages features the calligraphy, vibrant imagery and gold and silver foil illuminations inspired by the original Saint John's Bible.

"This is not just a copy," said Beth Farwell, director of Central Libraries Special Collections. "This is a very unique volume. It really is as close to the original as you can possibly get."

Jackson trained his team of scribes to learn the script he designed so every page would look exactly the same. He oversaw the creation of the Heritage Edition and was adamant that it look as close to the original as possible.

Justice for all people, transformation and hospitality were the three guiding principles for which passages would be illustrated.

"You see that through the images, especially the justice for all people," Farwell said. "There's a lot of social justice in these images, a lot of modern themes. Their hope was to create a Bible that was a 21st century Bible, but in the manner of the old medieval style."

Weaving science throughout the Bible was important to Jackson, as he wanted to make a point that science can point toward God and that science and religion do not have to be separate. For example, modern day science in the Bible includes DNA strands weaved into the image of "The Genealogy of Christ." As a reminder of the importance of forgiveness, Jackson incorporated the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center into the image he was designing on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the Heritage Edition, the artists decided to portray Jesus as pure gold but faceless, allowing the gold foil to reflect the viewer's face back to them so that everyone can literally see themselves in Jesus. The gold foil is hand-stamped and pressed with silk to imitate the texture in the original.

The artists and calligraphers who worked on the project weren't all religious, but Farwell said that gives the project a special touch.

"I think what makes that interesting is that it's a view in from a person who doesn't have an 'I know this verse inside and out' perspective. It's someone with fresh eyes coming into it, and so that makes some of these really unique and allows for a brand new view of it," Farwell said.

"I don't think Donald Jackson came to this with any deep religious conviction, but if you were sitting there copying The Word, it becomes a very spiritual experience," she said. "There was a quote that you can't write the Word of God and not be changed by it. This is a wonderful portal into Scripture, absolutely, but also into the history of bookmaking, of text, of medieval practices calligraphy."

University, community resource

Some local calligraphers brought the availability of the Heritage Edition to Farwell's attention. Once she started hearing about how other universities were incorporating the Saint John's Bible into their learning, she warmed to the idea of acquiring the set.

"We think the Heritage Edition offers a wide range of opportunities for research by the Baylor faculty community and interested scholars across Central Texas," Farwell said. "Scholars from the arts, theology, religion, literature, history – the paths for entry into this piece are limited only by one's imagination."

Since it became available for research in May, the Saint John's Bible has so far been used by Baylor doctoral students at Truett Seminary and undergraduate students in art appreciation and freshman English.

"We've done quite a bit with it," Farwell said. "The English classes would do an exercise of how an image impacts the text and then students wrote a paper about it. It's a nice portal into library resources for freshmen."

The Heritage Edition also is a community resource. Throughout June, Central Presbyterian Church in Woodway incorporated the illuminated Bible into its curriculum and made the Bible available for viewing at the church each Tuesday night. The church centered around the theme, "How do I illuminate the Bible?"

"The associate pastor said that having the modern elements allows you to get that Scripture closer to you now than thinking of it as only happening to somebody else at some other time," Farwell said. "They're so creative of how they weaved it through. It's a wonderful thing."

In addition to sharing the Bible with the classes, churches and the broader community, Farwell said that several hospitals around the country have purchased the Heritage Edition.

"There's a whole stream of the healing art on this, so I'm interested to see if we can come up with a program that works for our local hospitals," Farwell said.

This summer, Baylor library staff will travel to Saint John's Abbey for a workshop with the team that created the Saint John's Bible Heritage Edition.

Dedication, viewing

Baylor will hold a public service of dedication, including a blessing for each of the seven volumes of the Saint John's Bible, at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 27 in Powell Chapel at Truett Seminary.

The Heritage Edition of the Saint John's Bible is available for view by classes, faculty members and the general public. Arrangements to view the Heritage Edition can be made by contacting the Central Libraries Special Collections at or by calling Beth Farwell at 254-710-3679.

For more information on the Saint John's Bible, visit the Saint John's Bible website.

About The Saint John's Bible
The Saint John's Bible is the first handwritten, hand-illuminated Bible in more than 500 years. Under the artistic direction of Donald Jackson, the internationally acclaimed calligrapher and senior scribe to the Queen of England, The Saint John's Bible was commissioned by the Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey and University to ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world and to illuminate the word of God for a new millennium.

Through the Heritage Program, individuals and artistic, religious and cultural institutions can experience and share the only full-size, limited edition reproductions of The Saint John's Bible. Bound in soft Italian leather and printed on 100 percent American cotton paper, the Heritage Edition features the exquisite
calligraphy, vibrant imagery and stunning gold and silver illuminations inspired by the original. With Jackson as the creative director, the Heritage Edition is a work of art in its own right and each volume includes Jackson's signature and certificate of authenticity. Proceeds from the sales of the Heritage Edition will help fund the continuing preservation of endangered medieval manuscripts worldwide, a permanent home for The Saint John's Bible and scholarly work related to this monumental masterpiece. Visit for more information.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco,Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.