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A Simply Extraordinary Week in England: The 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour, Part II

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the commissioning of The Saint John’s Bible with a pilgrimage to some of England’s most prominent institutions of faith.

Posted December 16, 2023 in Religious Institutions

This article is the second installation in a two-part series telling the story of the 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour. Click here to read part I 

England, United Kingdom – At 4:45 p.m. on November 8th, 2023, a group of 50 artists, theologians, and supporters of The Saint John’s Bible excitedly awaited the arrival of their host to take their first steps into the Crypt Chapel at Lambeth Palace, one of the foremost religious locations in the United Kingdom.  

From the warm, inviting glow of the space and the way The Right Reverend Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury carefully and deliberately shook the hand of everyone in the room, one would never know that this area is not often open to visitors. The Crypt Chapel has walls that only few can say they’ve seen with their own eyes. 

“To host a group of 50 people from the United States was in and of itself a remarkable act of hospitality,” recalled Rev. Dr. John F. Ross, Executive Director of the Heritage Program. “I distinctly remember the Archbishop greeting every single person. He was delightful and genuinely interested in meeting every person that he spoke with during the reception.” 

The event for which this group had gathered was the dedication of an Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible to Lambeth Palace Library. This stop was just one of many on the 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour – an eight-day pilgrimage during which creators and supporters of The Saint John’s Bible traveled across England in honor of the 25th year since the commissioning of the project. By the end of the tour, Sarum College, Lambeth Palace Library, and Canterbury Cathedral had all received an edition of The Saint John’s Bible 

Archbishop Welby (left) practices his burnishing technique under the watchful guidance of Creative Director Donald Jackson (right). Photo: Neil Turner for Lambeth Palace. November 2023

After a short but meaningful ceremony in which Archbishop Justin Welby burnished the Apostles Edition, which was gifted to Lambeth palace in honor and memory of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the group moved to the Upper Chapel for an Evensong Service and Blessing of the Volumes.  

Of all the week’s ceremonies, this one was likely the most intimate. Under the high, golden ceilings that so few get to witness in person, the blue volumes shone gracefully, as did the soft smiles of everyone in the room. 

The Apostles Edition on display in the chancel of the Upper Chapel at Lambeth Palace during the Blessing of the Volumes service. Photo by Neil Turner. Photo: Neil Turner for Lambeth Palace. November 2023

Perhaps the most touching moment of the ceremony happened, as the sacred often does, in private. Moments before the procession of the volumes was due to begin, a small group, including Rev. Dr. Ross and Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s Abbey, stood in the narthex.  

Those familiar with the symbolism of Christian traditions will know this well: every object has meaning. The Archbishop’s crosier symbolizes power and authority derived from “love, concern, and hospitality rather than hate, control, or fear,” as Rev. Dr. Ross wrote in a JourneyNote. (Read The Reverend’s full JourneyNote, “Hospitality by Hook or Crook”, here.) It is held in the left hand to leave the right hand free for blessings.  

When Archbishop Welby entered the room with the crosier naturally gripped in his left hand, something remarkable happened – he extended his crosier to Abbot Klassen. Gently, the Archbishop invited the Abbot to carry the crosier into worship and to hold it for the duration of the service.  

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby moments after handing his crosier to Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s Abbey.
The Saint John’s Bible Apostles Edition is processed in the Upper Chapel of Lambeth Palace moments after Archbishop Welby handed his crosier to Abbot Klassen. Photo by Neil Turner.

“The symbolism of that gesture was so remarkable. I admit, it brought tears to my eyes to witness,” recalled Rev. Dr. Ross. “I felt so honored to see such a sincere, profound moment of ecumenical unity.” 

Indeed, ecumenical unity marked by profound acts of hospitality such as this is the why behind this entire pilgrimage. The Saint John’s Bible and its facsimiles were never created to be untouchable; in fact, the opposite is true. The project’s creators dedicated more than twelve years of their lives to bond humanity in what connects us all – each other. The Saint John’s Bible is to be experienced in community. Pages are to be turned, illuminations pondered, lessons learned from one another. That is why this act was so profound. In this moment, a gesture that the project’s creators had determined to give to the world – was gifted back to them.  

The Apostles Edition now resides in Lambeth Palace Library’s central depository for the public to experience.  

“The Story Behind the Story” at St. Martin-in-the-Fields 

After a day-long sabbath, the group resumed the pilgrimage on Friday, November 10. On this day, London’s historic St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church hosted a lecture titled, “The Story Behind the Story,” in which Tim Ternes, Director of The Saint John’s Bible interviewed Donald Jackson and Fr. Eric Hollas, OSB.  

Because Jackson and Fr. Hollas are the two people who shared the very first conversation about what would become The Saint John’s Bible, it was only appropriate that this occasion be used to share the experience.  

“No one has heralded The Saint John’s Bible more effectively, and with more people than Tim Ternes – period,” said Rev. Dr. Ross. “So, for him to facilitate a conversation between Donald and Fr. Eric was just perfect, not only for historical or archival purposes, but for the inspirational nature of the session.”   

Click here to watch “The Story Behind the Story.” 

A Canterbury Tale for the 21st Century: The Saint John’s Bible at Canterbury Cathedral 

Before anyone knew it or expected it, the final day of the Dedication Tour had arrived. How remarkable was it that the final destination on this historic pilgrimage was Canterbury Cathedral? 

The event on Saturday, November 11, 2023, began at 3:00 p.m. with a public lecture by Tim Ternes and Fr. Michael Patella, OSB, titled, “The Saint John’s Bible and the Revitalization of Imagination in Biblical Exegesis.” In the lecture, the two academics discussed the importance of The Saint John’s Bible to strong biblical interpretation and exegesis. The lecture was open to the public and upwards of 70 people attended.  

President Brian Bruess, Ph.D, of Saint John’s University processes one volume of the Heritage Edition during the Blessing of the Volumes at Canterbury Cathedral. Photo by Tim Stubbings.
President Brian Bruess, Ph.D, of Saint John’s University processes one volume of the Heritage Edition during the Blessing of the Volumes at Canterbury Cathedral. Photo by Tim Stubbings.

During what was the final ceremony of the Dedication Tour, the joyful energy was palpable. This event was live-streamed and open to the public, so thousands of viewers worldwide were able to join in the celebration. The occasion was made even more joyous when President Bruess was invited to carry in the Gospels & Acts volume of the Heritage Edition during the procession of the volumes – yet another wonderful act of ecumenical unity on this tour. Canterbury Cathedral’s Heritage Edition was dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.  

With that, the 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour came to a close.  

“Every single day something remarkable happened,” said Rev. Dr. Ross. “We accomplished everything we had set out to do. We created a remarkable moment of unity and ecumenism, and we delivered The Saint John’s Bible to its creative birthplace. I was profoundly moved by the impact of this tour and can’t wait to see the impact that this project makes around the world next.”  

The Saint John’s Bible: Igniting the Spiritual Imagination Around the World 

The Dedication Tour may be over, but the journey to ignite spiritual imaginations never ceases for the Heritage Program. We invite you to subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, Sharing the Word, to continue on this journey with us.