Whoever said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover…” never met the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, or the amazing people who bind this rare and wonderful work of sacred art. The binding, case, and box of the Heritage Edition are nothing short of a masterpiece—handmade with love every step of the way, so that we may bring the Bible to life.
On a recent trip to Bindtech-Roswell Bookbinding in Phoenix, Arizona I was honored to see the team at work as they assembled, stitched, glued, stamped, foiled, painted, cased-in and inspected our latest order for 62 volumes of the Heritage Edition. We bind Heritage Editions as needed due to costs and timing. Currently, we are ‘sold out’ and awaiting this next batch of bound sets. Of course, we are still limited to 299 7-volume sets.
Most of the people who are part of the process along the way have been doing so since the very beginning—each one with a deep and sincere posture of reverence and respect. Here are some of their stories…
Unlike most of the books we handle regularly, the Heritage Edition is sewn together by hand. Violeta is the sole person who hand-stitches every volume, section by section, signature by signature. She begins with the loose signatures, which contain multiple pages, punching the holes and stitching them together. Then comes the addition of the 7 cloth bands that ensure the Bible’s strength and stability. This is art, not science. If Violeta sews the pages too tightly, the volume won’t open properly; if she sews them too loosely, it won’t be long before the volume falls apart. It all begins with her.
Meet Charlie & Fabio
Charlie has hand-stamped over 1,000 custom-colored Italian calfskin leather covers for Heritage Editions. Over the 12+ years it’s taken him, he’s only lost 2 calfskins to human error—but even those 2 skins continue to serve the purpose of testing the stamps. The process of stamping and foiling the leather covers is so precise, that at times a piece of paper as thin as onion skin is used to raise the leather in order to deepen the impression.
Fabio oversees the entire binding process from start to finish. But when he truly wants to leave a mark, he joins Charlie at the stamping station.
Along the way, the volumes make 2 stops at Pepe’s station, including the final and most important one—the hand-assembling known as “casing-in.” The volumes first come to Pepe straight from Violeta for what’s known as round-backing—the process of rounding the spine of sewn-together pages, so that it will saddle into the leather case with no gaps. Pepe uses pipes with different circumferences to round-back volumes of varying thickness. He then applies (by hand) a very thick glue that holds the shape and fits the cover for casing-in. Pepe is the only one who handles both the unbound pages and the final bound book of every volume.
The Beauty Within
At the end of my two-day visit, I brought the whole team together for a photograph featuring an open, finished volume in the foreground. As everyone gathered for the photo, it became clear to me that most of them had never seen the actual pages of the Heritage Edition and the beauty contained within. For several moments, I watched as they responded with awe, reverence, and joy—just as people around the world respond to their meticulous, artistic craft of bookbinding.
The beauty within the pages of The Saint John’s Bible is matched by the beauty within the people at Bindtech-Roswell Bookbinding. We owe them a debt of genuine gratitude for helping us bring the Bible to life. This is a case where you should judge a book by its cover.
The Reverend Dr. John F. Ross is the Executive Director of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Read more