Posted Online: Nov. 08, 2013, 5:00 am

Even Gideon would be impressed by this Bible

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By Leon Lagerstam,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert/
Sister Bobbi Bussan and college Chaplain Kristen Glass Perez hold a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible by famed calligrapher Donald Jackson, Monday Nov. 4, at the Augustana College Chapel. The bible will be on display at the college in a series of events.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert/
A page of a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible by famed calligrapher Donald Jackson, Monday Nov. 4, 2013, at the Augustana College Chapel. The bible will be on display at the college in a series of events.
A Luke Anthology illumination from The St. John's Bible.
Tim Ternes
Calligrapher Donald Jackson
ROCK ISLAND -- One look at a new Bible made an Augustana College chaplain a true convert.

It didn't change her religious persuasion, but Chaplain Kristen Glass Perez became a big believer in the drawing power of a new hand-written and hand-illuminated St. John's Bible that took a team of 23 people 15 years to produce.

She's sure community members will be equally awed when seeing it during month-long events to highlight it and explain the process used to create it at the college and St. Mary's Monastery, also in Rock Island.

A seven-volume fine-art reproduction called The Heritage Edition of the St. John's Bible will be displayed from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15 on the second floor of the college's Tredway Library.

A community open house will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at the library in the college's student life center, followed by a 7 p.m. lecture from St. John's Bible Project director Tim Ternes, of Collegeville, Minn.

Chaplain Glass Perez said she was nervous when she first heard about the month-long plans, wondering "what are we going to do with a Bible to make it more interesting, and for that long. At first I thought people would think we were crazy."

But when two of the volumes arrived at Augustana, ''all they had to do was open them, and I was a convert."

Mr. Ternes wasn't surprised.

"At least once a day, I hear someone say 'that's not what I thought it would be like,' " he said. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say 'my spouse dragged me here,' and then say they were blown away by what they heard and saw."

Each volume is 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, so the physical size itself is inspiring, Mr. Ternes said. "The whole thing weighs 300 pounds. It's a Bible that says 'you can't lift me by yourself, you're going to have to share me with someone else.' But that's the whole idea. This Bible is meant to be communal."

"We aren't asked to wear gloves or anything like that, because the creators want people to be able to feel and touch this wonderful Bible, as well," Chaplain Glass Perez said.

Pages of The Saint John's Bible are made of calfskin vellum that was soaked in lime, dried, scraped or "scrutched," and sanded smooth. The final product is nearly translucent, according to

Heritage Edition volumes feel similar. They are printed on paper that is 100 percent cotton produced by Monadnock Paper Mills, a family-owned paper mill in Bennington, N. H., the oldest continuously operating U.S. paper mill, website information said.

The calligraphy font used was invented by famed calligrapher Donald Jackson, who oversaw the project. It's called a Jacksonian font in his honor, Chaplain Glass Perez said.

"As they say, pictures speak a thousand words, or more than a 1,000 sermons someone could give, and the St. John's Bible is proof of that," she said.

"Visuals are so important to people," said Sister Bobbi Bussan, St. Mary Monastery vocation director and part of Augustana's religion department. "And the illuminations you'll find in The St. John's Bible are visually different than anything I've ever seen before."

The upcoming display will include 10 framed illustrations from the Bible, as well, Chaplain Glass Perez said.

"There hasn't been a Bible like this produced since the time of the Gutenberg Bible," Chaplain Glass Perez said. "There are 299 reproductions of the Heritage Edition in circulation, and it costs $145,000 for a set."

The authentic St. John's Bible also will be taken on tour, including a December stop in Canton, Ohio, which will be the closest to the Quad-Cities, Mr. Ternes said.

The Bible was commissioned in 1998 by Saint John's Abbey and University, a Benedictine community in Collegeville, he said.

"The simplest way I can explain my job as director is that I'm the keeper of the story, and the keeper of the pages," Mr. Ternes said. "I'm also the one who can tell you everything about the Bible, because it's my job to pass it on."

His lecture at Augustana College will be titled "From Inspiration to Illumination, an Introduction to the St. John's Bible."

Although he's given similar lectures hundreds of times, he never gets tired of it and it never gets boring, he said.

"Every presentation is different, and every single person sees something different," Mr. Ternes said. "If people want to hear a fascinating story, they won't be disappointed. I promise it will be an hour that will seem to just fly by."

What has amazed Chaplain Glass Perez and Sister Bussan the most was how captivated young collegians have been with the two volumes of the Bible they've seen, especially in this digital age.

"It's certainly not something you can just pull up on your phone," Chaplain Glass Perez said. "It's also something they may only get to see once in their life."

"We had wondered if it would touch their lives like it has touched ours," Sister Bussan said. "And it has. I'm hoping it helps people fall back in love with Scripture -- that it rekindles their interest."

"It doesn't make the words more holy," Chaplain Glass Perez said.

"But there's so much symbolism, people looking at it won't know where to begin," Sister Bussan said.

"We could look at it for five years, and still may not get to everything," Chaplain Glass Perez said.

Among her favorites is an illumination at the beginning of Matthew, which features an image of a Menorah and lists the ancestry of Jesus, including women and Biblical figure Hagar, who often gets overlooked, she said.

Sister Bussan said it was too difficult to pick a favorite, but mentioned how images of seeds spread across the pages where the parable of the sower was told got her attention.

A Luke anthology was one of Mr. Ternes' favorites. In addition to images of sheep, lost coins and the prodigal son, the illumination includes a golden drawing of the twin towers, he said.

Illuminations don't only include ancient Biblical images, he said, adding that modern ones are included. For example, a four horses of the apocalypse rendering includes modern versions of cavalry, such as tanks. The same illustration includes oil rigs and modern cancer cells, he said.

"You could go to any hotel and get a free Gideon Bible," Mr. Ternes said. "But there's something that's so much more powerful about the St. John's Bible. The only way to truly get it is to see it," he said, and then become a convert like Chaplain Glass Perez.