Rare Bible on loan at Holy Name Catholic Church in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Rare Bible on loan at Holy Name Catholic Church in Steamboat Springs

Kari Dequine Harden/For Steamboat Today

— Over the next year, a volume of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John's Bible will be on display at the Holy Name Catholic Church in Steamboat Springs.

Other reproductions of the first handwritten Bible in more than 500 years reside in places like the Vatican, Yale Universit, and the Library of Congress.

"It's huge," to have a copy here, said parishioner Mike Lang, who is helping to organize Steamboat Symphony Orchestra concerts throughout the year as a way to celebrate and share the unique Bible with the community.

On Saturday, Jan. 14, Brad Neary, director of the Saint John's Bible Heritage Program will give an "enjoyable, entertaining and informative presentation" about the Bible at 7 p.m. at Holy Name Church. It is free and open to the public.

An open house session will be held following the presentation, offering a closer look at the Gospels & Acts volume in residence at the church.

The Bible is something that reaches far beyond the Catholic Church, noted Lang, and transcending differences, it’s a work of art and theology that can bring together people of all denominations. Regardless of belief systems, it is part of the history of Western civilization, and "the most popular book in the world," he said.

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Neary's "Igniting the Spiritual Imagination" presentation on Saturday will focus on the story of the original handwritten and illuminated folios of The Saint John's Bible.

The project that took close to 16 years to complete is a work of art in itself in addition to the sacred text, with more than 160 major illuminations painted by artists from around the world.

The undertaking was initiated by renowned Welsh calligrapher Donald Jackson, who is the senior scribe to Queen Elizabeth II.

"When I was a 9-year-old, desire led me to copying ancient scripts and decorated letters," said Jackson on the Saint John Bible's website. "I loved the feel of the pen as it touched the page and the breathtaking effect of the flow of colored ink as its wetness caught the light."

For 12 years, Jackson worked with a team of scholars, art historians, calligraphers, illuminators and Benedictine monks.

"The Bible is the calligraphic artist's supreme challenge (our Sistine Chapel), a daunting task," Jackson said.

Jackson presented his lifelong dream in 1995, and in 1998, was commissioned by Saint John's Abbey and University in Minnesota. Regularly travelling back and forth between Wales and Minnesota, Jackson wrote the first words, "In the beginning," in 2000, and completed the final page in 2011.

According to The Saint John’s Bible's website, "Before any page was written, a number of decisions were made about the very words themselves and how to represent them in text and illumination. What to emphasize? How to represent the divine? These decisions — from what translation to use to what size page to allocate to a particular illumination — are guided by a set of principles and careful consideration about the themes."

The mission of the Saint John's Bible is "to ignite the spiritual imagination of people around the world of all faith journeys," and the creation of the Heritage Edition "brought together the ancient techniques of calligraphy and illumination with an ecumenical Christian approach to the Bible rooted in Benedictine spirituality."

The Heritage Edition represents an international collaboration, utilizing printing experts from England and the U.S., cotton paper from a mill in New Hampshire, offset lithographic printing technology from Germany and calfskin leather from Italy for the bindings, which were hand-sewn in Pakistan.

The 1,150 pages in each of the seven-volume Bibles were hand-stitched and bound in Arizona.

Each of the 299 reproductions in the Heritage Edition is valued at around $145,000. No two editions are alike, as the illuminations required hand treatments.

"The illuminations are not illustrations," said Father Michael Patella, chair of the Committee on Illumination and Text on the Saint John's Bible website. "They are spiritual meditations on a text. It is a very Benedictine approach to Scriptures."

And the books are massive — several feet by several feet, with the Gospels and Arts volume in Steamboat representing just one volume.

But it is the volume with some of the most artwork and the most beautiful artwork, said Father Ernest Bayer. "We're pretty excited about this."

The loan of the Bible was made possible through the generosity of benefactors Russ and Tina Sherlock, and it will be on display in Holy Name's chapel.

Bayer described the diversity of the artwork and illuminations — some modern, and some more traditional, inspired by artistic traditions from across the globe.

Combined with the series of Steamboat Symphony Orchestra concerts, Bayer said sharing the special Bible with everyone is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the fine arts, spirituality through art and community.