England, United Kingdom – It is Sunday, November 5th at 10:30 a.m. in Salisbury, England. There is still morning dew on the grass outside of Salisbury Cathedral, and the energy inside the building’s walls is palpable. The Service of the Holy Eucharist is about to commence, and the Pentateuch volume of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition will be processed through the sanctuary and blessed by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Most Reverend Stephen Lake. This Heritage Edition set will be given to Sarum College, a prestigious academic institution located within the ancient walls of the Salisbury Cathedral Close.
The service is the first stop on the 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour – an eight-day pilgrimage in which creators and supporters of The Saint John’s Bible travelled across England in honor of the 25th year since Saint John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota commissioned Donald Jackson, renowned calligrapher and former scribe to Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to create The Saint John’s Bible. By the end of the tour, Sarum College, Lambeth Palace Library, and Canterbury Cathedral will all have received an edition of The Saint John’s Bible.
According to The Rev. Dr. John F. Ross, Executive Director of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program, there were three primary goals behind the planning for this epic tour: “First, we wanted to bring The Saint John’s Bible back to its creative birthplace. Second, we wanted to honor Donald & Mabel Jackson, and the whole team of people responsible for its creation. And finally, we wanted to bring heightened awareness and prominence to this truly unique masterpiece of sacred Word and art.”
As the clock strikes the half-hour, the service commences. Music swells and fills the Cathedral’s towering ceiling as representatives from Saint John’s Abbey and University process through the nave at Salisbury Cathedral alongside the Cathedral’s clergy and representatives from Sarum College.
The Right Reverend John Klassen, 10th Abbot of Saint John’s Abbey, was invited to preach the homily for the morning. The Rev. Dr. John F. Ross, Executive Director of the Heritage Program, was invited to read the Scripture during the Eucharist service. When it came time for Holy Eucharist, everybody was invited to the table.
“To invite me, as a Congregational Protestant minister, to read out the Scripture, was a wonderful gesture of welcome and of ecumenical unity,” said Rev. Ross. “Salisbury Cathedral opened their pulpit…opened their table to our community – and we were so moved.”
Abbott Klassen preached a homily that encouraged reflection and service as important virtues in times of strife and confusion.
“We pray that God’s Kingdom will come and that we will persevere to the end, as Jesus urges us to. To do so requires resilience. So, some practices for resilience: Praying the psalms, slowly, reflectively, being in silence, are enormously restorative to sanity and wellbeing,” said Abbot Klassen.
“Another pathway toward resilience is service: to the poor, the hungry, those who are physically challenged, those who live alone and are home-bound,” the Abbot continued. “These are examples of practical charity, love made real in our awareness of the needs of others. Individuals in these situations pull us out of global abstractions into the human framework. Service to others pulls us back from the ledge of catastrophic thinking.”
When the service came to an end, the congregation flocked around the Pentateuch volume of the Heritage Edition. Eyes widened in awe when experiencing the work up close for the first time.
At 2:30 p.m. on that same day, Christopher de Hamel, academic librarian and expert on medieval manuscripts, gave a lecture placing The Saint John’s Bible in a historic context at Sarum College titled, “Giant Bibles in the Middle Ages and Now.” The lecture was well attended and a great delight to the audience.
“The only possible comparable Romanesque Bibles made in England are those of: Bury Edmund Bible (circa 1100-1500), Lambeth Bible (circa 1100) and Winchester Bible (circa 1200),” said de Hamel in the lecture. “We medieval paleographers look at medieval manuscripts and pronounce how many scribes were involved. Six calligraphers were employed for The Saint John’s Bible. Donald [Jackson] will show us a random opening and say, ‘Three different scribes worked on this page. You tell me where the hand changes,’ and do you know…I cannot do it. Such is their uniformity and skill that I at least cannot detect the changes. It is terribly unnerving.”
The Saint John’s Bible Creators Honored with Highest Honor Pax Christi Award
On the evening of November 7th, the historic Inner Temple Hall in London was aglow. Tables were elegantly dressed with gently placed silverware as candle flames flickered and empty glasses sat readily perched for filling. Indeed, on this night, cups were full.
At 6:30 p.m., a cocktail hour commenced. One by one, artists, calligraphers, theologians, and supporters of The Saint John’s Bibleentered, many of whom hadn’t seen each other in years, if ever before. The sight of eyes lighting up in recognition of old friends – many of whom had spent the better part of 15 years working together – sparked a unique joy that compounded upon itself as the night carried on.
That night, The Saint John’s Bible team was honored with the Pax Christi Award–the highest honor awarded by Saint John’s University & Abbey. It recognizes those who have devoted themselves to God by working in the tradition of Benedictine valuesto serve others and to build a heritage of faith in the world.
“Twenty-five years might not seem very long, but, 1,000 years from now, that night will still be marked as the occasion, perhaps the last occasion, when everyone associated with this project came together for the final time,” said Rev. Dr. John F. Ross. “There were long connections rekindled and there were new friendships affirmed. It was pure joy.”
Be sure to read more about The 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour in our next installment of “Sharing the Word”.
The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program Presents: The 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour Part II
Subscribe to the Heritage Program’s monthly e-newsletter, Sharing the Word, to read part II of the Dedication Tour pilgrimage, coming December 2023.