Treasures from the Library: St John’s Bible

This week’s Treasure is a relatively new one, and well suited for Lent.


In 1998, St John’s University and St John’s Abbey officially commissioned a new illuminated Bible, now known as the St John’s Bible. The Bible is presented in 7 volumes; work was first begun during Lent 2000, and the volumes were completed and released over a period of time, from 2001 to 2007.

The original seven volumes are currently held at St John’s University, but you can explore the volumes digitally through their website. The College holds the standard publicly available copy of the St John’s Bible. There is also an edition referred to as the Heritage Edition, which is a fine art copy of the original including touch ups by hand and gold leaf. Per the St John’s website, there is a Heritage copy as Assumption College in Worcester, MA.

Speaking for myself, I’m a big fan of illuminated manuscripts. I still remember my trip to the Getty Museum and the Huntington Library when I was on the cusp of high school. By far the biggest draws for me were the glorious collections of illuminated Bibles and Books of Hours– the colors were brilliant, even after so much time. The gold was tarnished but there was a distinct sense of history, of use. The Huntington has secular manuscripts as well, notably the Canterbury Tales. I highly recommend both institutions; the collections are wonderful and the surroundings are marvelous. The Huntington has botanical gardens attached and they are always a highlight to my visit. There is something lovely about a library and garden together. The Getty, on the other hand, is located up on the cliffs and glitters in the afternoon sun so fiercely you need sunglasses, though you’ll not notice it when you’re in among their collections.

For those seeking additional digital access to Medieval manuscripts, turn your attention to the Digital Scriptorium and Cambridge’s online Scriptorium.

The nice thing about having a complete copy of the St John’s Bible available for students is to see the contemporary take on a very old form. The illuminations contained in the Bible may not be everyone’s cup of tea– as with digital images, it is difficult to get the full sense of the illumination in a reproduction. The color scheme is somewhat different from what might be seen in medieval manuscripts. There is more information on the principles that shaped the St John’s Bible available on their website.

For our copy of the St John’s Bible, it is available to view within the library. In the foyer, there is an alcove which contains the display stand and all seven volumes. Any of the volumes may be moved to the Helm Room or Scholar’s Lounge for viewing but must be returned to the viewing stand. They are not available for circulation.