Experiencing The Saint John’s Bible alone can be powerful. After all, it was created as a work of self-reflection, inviting viewers to discover the divine in their own spiritual imaginations. But as an object of community, it has the power to inspire beyond its pages.
At Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York, the Heritage Edition has been reaching an ever-widening audience since the college was first exposed to it in 2015-16. During their Year with The Saint John’s Bible program, MSMC hosted more than 50 The Saint John’s Bible-centric events and activities, including public displays and classroom presentations. That’s not to mention its numerous off-campus detours, which saw two volumes of the Heritage Edition travel to churches, nursing homes and more in surrounding counties.
“Our President and the Board of Trustees saw that many people had been very engaged with the Bible during the year that it was here,” said Barbara Petruzzelli, Director of the Kaplan Family Library at MSMC. “They felt that it spoke to our campus mission, to our Catholic identity, and it gave us an opportunity to connect with our local community.”
The religiously diverse Newburgh area, along with MSMC’s strong connections with the Jewish community, also provided the college with ample opportunities for interfaith outreach. After the college acquired their first volumes of the Heritage Edition in 2016, the set was blessed by both a local rabbi and the school chaplain. Marc Epstein, Director of Jewish Studies at Vassar College, presented “The St. John’s Bible: Jews, Christians, and Why Art Matters,” an in-depth examination of The Saint John’s Bible’s adaptation of themes and images from the Hebrew bible.
The Saint John’s Bible Inspires Communal Art
The Heritage Edition’s ability to create shared experiences also led the school to collaborate on a more intimate project: a hand-stitched quilt, designed by Laura Nicholls, MSMC Desmond campus art instructor and certified calligrapher. The quilt commemorates the 800th Jubilee of the Dominican Order, with an array of symbols and designs inspired by The Saint John’s Bible that highlight the college’s connection with the order’s rich history.
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On the quilt’s origin, Petruzzelli said, “The idea of a community art project kept coming up in our planning as we thought about how [The Saint John’s Bible] was created. Wouldn’t it be great if we could create some kind of art here where a lot of people on campus could be involved?”
Under Nicholls’ guidance, around 100 staff, faculty, students and administrators contributed to the quilt, which measures about eight by six feet, over the course of some seven months. The finished product is a literal patchwork of the college’s roots and culture, incorporating Dominican motifs, MSMC insignia (including stained glass and the college’s Knights mascot), and an homage to Donald Jackson’s Genealogy of Jesus illumination that opens Matthew in Volume 6 of the Heritage Edition.
Petruzzelli added that the quilt project in turn led to increased enthusiasm for acquiring the Heritage Edition for permanent use at MSMC. “If it could inspire this cross-campus communal effort, it has the potential for inspiring a lot more.”
Planning for 2019 and Beyond
That potential is now brimming over with MSMC’s recently-completed Heritage Edition set. The college’s “incremental approach” to incorporating the Bible into campus life includes developing an elective course on The Saint John’s Bible, more community outreach and several events planned for the Spring 2019 semester. Among them are a public lecture, faculty-staff presentation, and name-lettering sessions from The Saint John’s Bible artist and calligrapher Diane Von Arx in March and a presentation from Tim Ternes, Director of The Saint John’s Bible and Director of Programming at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, in April.
Of the limitless opportunities provided by the Heritage Edition, Petruzzelli said the opportunity to connect one-on-one with its art and scripture defines its purpose. “It’s a blessing to me personally, quite honestly, to have the opportunity to work so closely with these beautiful books,” she said. “I have never felt this way about the Bible … and I feel like it has the same effect on anybody who gets that opportunity. It just draws you in.”