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The Saint John's Bible: Virtual Tour

Copyright © Holzemer, B. (n.d) Gospels and Acts [Photo]. Retrieved from


Donald Jackson, the master calligrapher and official scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, was the artistic director and illuminator for The Saint John’s Bible project. It was a childhood dream of his to create an illuminated handwritten Bible, and an opportunity to communicate this ambition to the Saint John’s Abbey Community became a reality in 1998, when The Saint John’s Bible was officially commissioned (A lifetime's dream, 2019). Gospels and Acts was the first of the volumes to be completed and the first words, “In the beginning was the Word” were penned on Ash Wednesday, March 8, 2000 (Calderhead, 2015, p.166).

The Making of the Original Manuscript

The making of The Saint John’s Bible utilised both ancient and modern techniques. Computer technology was used for the layout and design of the original manuscript, including the sizing of the text and page breaks. An international team of calligraphers and artists worked on the 1,165 pages using traditional quills and calfskin vellum; they applied natural handmade inks, pigments, and silver and gold leaf to adorn the text and illuminate the images (Production: layout & design, 2019). 

There are 160 major illuminations, as well as intricately designed book headings, marginalia, carpet pages, motifs and text treatments throughout the entire work. Attention to detail was core to the success of this project. Schemas were devised to determine which passages would be illuminated, and a unique script was designed by Donald Jackson which the six calligraphers who worked with him had to learn before the project could commence. The entire work was divided into seven volumes (Calderhead, 2015; A lifetime's dream, 2019; Production: layout & design, 2019).

A committee of artists, medievalists, theologians, biblical scholars and art historians provided the biblical and theological scholarship behind the project (A year with The Saint John's Bible, 2014).  In deciding which biblical translation to use for the project, the committee settled on The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). As a modern English translation with a strong literal tradition, it was determined that it was both theologically sound, and is used by a number of Christian denominations (The Saint John’s Bible media fact sheet, 2012).

The Making of the Heritage Edition

“Limited to 299 sets, the seven volumes of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible are true to the scale, beauty, and artistic intent of the original manuscript” (The heritage edition: igniting the spiritual imagination, 2014, p. 4).

The cotton paper used for the Heritage Edition was designed specifically for this project in order to approximate the weight and feel of the vellum used in the original manuscript. The pages were printed using state-of-the-art offset lithographic printing technology, ensuring the integrity of the original was replicated. Such attention to detail was given to this process that even the transparency seen in the original vellum manuscripts has been captured  using a 'shadow' technique on the pages of the Heritage Edition (The heritage edition: igniting the spiritual imagination, 2014).

After printing, gold and silver foils were applied using mechanical stamping and embossing processes, or by hand where the former processes could not achieve the required results - as a result no two Heritage Edition sets are identical. Each of the volumes has been bound by hand in Italian calfskin leather and adorned with a solid silver clasp. The headbands were hand sewn in Pakistan and each volume is numbered and has been personally initialed by Donald Jackson (The heritage edition: igniting the spiritual imagination, 2014​).



A lifetime’s dream. (2019). Retrieved from

A year with The Saint John’s Bible. (2014). Retrieved from

Broad Daylight Media. (2013). The Saint John’s Bible [Video file]. Retrieved from

Calderhead, C. (2015)Illuminating the word: The making of The Saint John’s Bible. (2nd ed.). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

Carson-Newman University. (2013). Making of the heritage edition [Video file]. Retrieved from

Production: Layout and design. (2019). Retrieved from

The heritage edition: Igniting the spiritual imagination. (2014). Retrieved from

The Saint John’s Bible media fact sheet. (2012). Retrieved from