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The Pope blesses the Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible. On left, Abbot John Klassen, Sen. Blunt and Dr. Billington; on right, Monsignor Mark Miles, Speaker Boehner, SJU President Michael Hemesath and GHR Foundation CEO Amy Goldman. (photo by Heather Reed, Office of the Speaker)

While the pomp around Pope Francis’s United States tour recedes, the Library of Congress is marking one lasting legacy with a rare bible given in honor of his visit. As of this past Saturday, the Apostles Edition of the Saint John’s Bible is on view in honor of its donation to the library’s collection of precious sacred manuscripts.

Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible presented to the Library of Congress (photo by Shawn Miller) (click to enlarge)

The bible isn’t particularly old or historically significant. What the Saint John’s Bible represents is an effort to create artistic bibles in the mode of illuminated books of yesteryear, except reflecting present-day life and society. The bible was bestowed, with a papal audience, on the Library of Congress this September 24 by Saint John’s Abbey and University. Its 1,130 pages have 160 illuminations accented with pigments made from precious stones, contained in a two-foot high book, all responding to the religious text with visions of the present-day.

It’s entirely handwritten in quill, led by calligrapher Donald Jackson, the first return of such craftsmanship since Gutenberg appeared five centuries ago. So far only 12 sets of the bible exist.

The design and creation of The Saint John’s Bible was also an interreligious effort. The illumination of the “Genealogy of Christ” incorporates a menorah and illustrations from the Koran.

You can explore all the Saint John’s Bible art online at Saint John’s Abbey. Even for people who could care little for the Christianity, it’s an interesting merging of traditional bookmaking with modern imagery, whether DNA sequencing, space travel, or satellite views of Earth, not dissimilar from windows at churches like St. John the Divine that depict technology from the printing press to the radio. Illuminated bibles are scattered throughout publishing history, and what they all share is they interpret the ancient stories through the people and events of their era.

Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible (courtesy Library of Congress)

The Saint John’s Bible is on view in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building (10 First Street, SE, Washington, DC) through January 2, 2016. 

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...