“When you start the Year with the Heritage Edition, the assumption is that after a year, the Bible goes back to Saint John’s,” said Nancy Werner, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “It was always my hope that wouldn’t be the case for us.”
The Archdiocese began its Year with the Bible in early 2017, bringing Gospels and Acts along a circuit of local displays in the St. Louis community. A Minnesota native, Nancy says she was “aware and proud of” the work Saint John’s University does to preserve historical texts when the Archdiocese entered the conversation to host the Bible in mid-2016. “I got involved because of my enthusiasm. We have a lot of love and appreciation for The Saint John’s Bible.”
But Nancy’s zeal wasn’t the only reason the Bible came to St. Louis. “I knew St. Louis was the perfect place to host the Bible,” she adds. The number of feet that walk through the nationally-renowned Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis – and the number of eyes that wander its thousands of vaunted square footage – are proof enough that the location could match the grandeur of the illuminated pages of The Saint John’s Bible.
She also knew the Heritage Edition wasn’t created to stay in one place for long: “It was never meant to come to St. Louis and be in the closet, not used, not seen and not enjoyed.”
“To gather friends of different faiths, different ages, to come together with all of our diversity and just enjoy the enlightenment and spiritual imagination that comes from The Saint John’s Bible.”
As part of the committee that coordinated the Year with the Bible, Nancy saw firsthand the power of The Saint John’s Bible to bring people together. “One of the gifts The Saint John’s Bible could bring was the gift of unity,” she says. “To gather friends of different faiths, different ages, to come together with all of our diversity and just enjoy the enlightenment and spiritual imagination that comes from The Saint John’s Bible.”
Hosting it at different sites in the Archdiocese made the Bible’s unique brand of unity “very accessible,” she says – whether people were visiting a loved one at Mercy Hospital or visiting the Saint Louis Abbey or one of the Archdiocese’s parishes.
“The initial response was, ‘Couldn’t we keep it longer?’ and sometimes we were able to do that,” Nancy says. “Reception, scheduled viewing, afternoon or evening prayer – whatever it was – it was never enough time for people. They love to linger, ask additional questions and keep learning about The Saint John’s Bible.”
The St. Louis community got their wish when a donation from Brian Ragen, Ph.D. – scholar, heraldic designer, donor, Cathedral Basilica parishioner and choir member – made it possible for the Archdiocese to display the Heritage Edition permanently.
The new home of the Heritage Edition was announced during the Cathedral Basilica’s Festival of Lessons and Carols, an Advent performance that featured a display of The Saint John’s Bible as well as projected illuminations from its pages.
For Nancy, the opportunity summed up what The Saint John’s Bible and the Heritage Edition are all about. “That was one of the most gratifying things – the partnerships created around The Saint John’s Bible. It was a great exclamation point to our year.”
While the ritual for displaying the Bible is still being developed, Nancy says the Archdiocese has ordered the manufacture of a marble case to house the Bible for the remainder of its 800-year projected lifespan. “Thousands and thousands of people walk through the cathedral,” she says. “It’s a destination spot in our country to see a beautiful church.” And now they can also experience the beauty of The Saint John’s Bible.
“It maybe sounds a little dramatic,” Nancy adds, “but it feels like such a magical time. To be able to be a part of something that will outlive all of us and is such a beautiful face of our cathedral.”
“I hope our experience encourages other dioceses to consider hosting the Heritage Edition,” Nancy says. “It bore far more fruit for us than we ever imagined.”