Berea’s Collection of Bibles Gets New Addition from St. John’s

•  “It” hasn’t been done on this scale since medieval times.
•  “It” measures 2 feet by 3 feet.
•  “It” weighs 20 pounds.
•  “It” combines ancient techniques and 21st century technologies.
•  “It” took more than 13 years to create.
•  “It” involved scores of individuals who used disparate materials including egg yolks, turkey and goose feathers, Chinese candle soot, calf skin, brilliant colors made from mineral and organic sources, as well as gold and platinum leaf.

“It” all may sound like some wizard’s or alchemist’s recipe and understandably people react to it with words like “Magical!” “Priceless!” and “Wow!”

“It” is the St. John’s Bible and after an advance sneak peek on-campus, it will be shown to the public in Berea for the first time, beginning at a convocation on Thursday, September 25, at 3:00pm in Phelps-Stokes Chapel at Berea College and then, with pages turned daily, the display will continue through May 15, 2015. During the convocation, Tim Ternes will present “More Work Than We Knew, More Joy Than We Imagined,” describing the 13 year process of creating the first Biblical manuscript commissioned in more than 500 years.

The St. John’s Bible Heritage Edition consists of 1,150 pages bound into seven volumes, each 2 feet by 3 feet when open and weighing about 20 pounds. They present the books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, through calligraphy and illumination, a technique used to embellish the work with luminous colors, especially gold and silver.

“The Saint John’s Bible arises from a spirit that is similar to that of Berea College itself,” states Rev. Gail Bowman, Director of the Willis D. Weatherford, Jr. Campus Christian Center.” Like us, it is bold in presenting Christianity as welcoming of other faiths. Through the subtle messages of its beautiful images, it fosters theological and ethical thinking — this is something we do in classrooms, campus centers, convocations, our commitment to live sustainably, and our involvement in the issues of the day. The Saint John’s Bible employs science as a tool of communication, evidencing the intellectual curiosity that is the Church, and this College, at their very best.”

The St. John’s Bible at Berea College continues a long tradition of making valuable texts available for viewing by students, faculty, staff and the public.  In addition to the St. John’s Bible, the Hutchins Library Special Collections and Archives will feature an exhibit of other rare manuscripts, early printed Bibles and sacred texts from the College’s collection.

Rachel Vagts, Head of Special Collections & Archives states, “Special Collections and our collection of Bibles has a long and rich tradition at Hutchins Library. From the early years of President Frost collecting rare texts during his travels abroad, to many dedicated friends of the college, we are fortunate to have a collection of rare and sacred texts to share with our students for years to come. The exhibit of the Saint John’s Bible is yet another chapter in that history and we are delighted to have it here in the library to share with our campus and the community beyond.” The Hutchins Library Special Collections and Archives rare book collection is distinguished for its centuries-old Bibles, its first editions in English and American literature, ballad books, hymnals, and 19th century works on the anti-slavery movement and Black history.

Those organizing the exhibit say it is for everyone; even people who are not religious will be fascinated by it. The project combines the work of many academic disciplines including art, history, science, religion and languages. Rev. Bowman adds, “The Saint John’s Bible is gorgeous work done skillfully, lovingly and creatively by patient human hands. The work on the Bible is stunning, and the work done by Chester Mullins (of the College’s Woodcraft Department) who designed the specially made wooden and glass display stand, Linda Kuhlman (Printing Services) who designed our printed materials, and Katherine Christensen (History Department) who designed the Guest Book, are stunning also.  Our tag line for this exhibit is “The Saint John’s Bible: Come and see what it says to you.”  That tag line could just as easily be, “Come and see what the Saint John’s Bible, and Berea College say to you, together.”’

The convocation Thursday is free and open to the public during. The display in the Hutchins Library can be viewed during the library’s regular hours.