“Lessons and Carols” event Dec. 17 to feature readings, display of images from Saint John’s Bible

Nearly one year after it was introduced here, the Saint John's Bible will find a permanent home at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

The hand-illuminated Bible will be the focus of a special "Lessons and Carols" event at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the cathedral basilica, Lindell Boulevard and Newstead Avenue. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and several others will offer Scripture readings, while images from the Bible will be projected on screens in the cathedral. The Archdiocesan Adult and Children's Choirs, directed by Horst Buchholz, and organist Ben Blasingame will provide the music.

At the event, a seven-volume Heritage Edition (a fine art reproduction of the original, handwritten Bible) will be permanently installed at the cathedral basilica. The volumes include Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Psalms, Prophets, Gospels and Acts, and Letters and Revelation.

The Saint John's Bible will now be a part of the experience for thousands of guests who visit the cathedral basilica every year, whether as tourists or for prayer, said archdiocesan chancellor Nancy Werner.

"The mission of the Saint John's Bible is to ignite the spiritual imagination of people around the world of all faith journeys," Werner said. "We want to make sure that throughout the year, people will have ample opportunity to enjoy, study and pray with it and savor the beauty of our volumes."

Brian Abel Ragen, a longtime Cathedral parishioner and donor who made it possible for the Bible to come to the cathedral basilica, noted that everyone should have the opportunity to know the Bible better. An illuminated Bible gives the viewer a different experience in which Scripture is encouraged to be seen and read aloud.

"It's easy to read, but it slows you down as you read it," said Ragen, a literary critic and professor emeritus of English at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, who also specializes in the study of heraldry. Because of the hand-crafted nature of an illuminated Bible, "you have this idea of the text being passed from one human being to another."

Saint John's University, a Benedictine university in Collegeville, Minn., commissioned Donald Jackson to hand-write and illuminate the Bible in part to celebrate the new millennium. Jackson is senior scribe to the Queen of England and a world-renowned artist and calligrapher. Referred to as "America's Book of Kells" by Newsweek Magazine, the Bible is the first to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in over 500 years.

In January 2017, the Archdiocese of St. Louis kicked off a yearlong tour of the Heritage Edition of the Bible. (The original is on display at Hill Museum and Manuscript Library on the campus of St. John's University.) The Bible also made stops at the Cardinal Rigali Center, Mercy Hospital St. Louis and St. Louis Priory School.

Inspired by handwritten, illuminated Bibles at the British Library in London, Jackson knew he wanted to create a similar work of art for the modern age. Working with a group of art historians, medievalists, artists, biblical scholars and theologians in Collegeville, Jackson and his team of calligraphers and artists created the 1,165-page manuscript, using the text and notes of the New Revised Standard Version translation. Each page of calligraphy took about eight to 12 hours to complete, and some of the 160 major illuminations took months. The project was completed in 15 years.

In 2013, Jackson completed the seventh and final volume of the Heritage Edition, a reproduction of all seven volumes. There are 299 sets located around the world and the edition is used in liturgies, by scholars, in presentations and in the everyday activities of faith communities. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is the third place in Missouri to have a set permanently installed; the other two are at the University of Missouri-Columbia and at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Kansas City, Mo. 

>> Lessons and Carols

WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17

WHERE: Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Lindell Boulevard and Newstead Avenue in the Central West End

MORE INFO: Admission is free; the event is sponsored by the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and Mercy. 

>> View the Saint John's Bible

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis will have the Saint John's Bible on display on certain dates throughout the month of December.

The Bible is available for viewing from 9:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m. and again from 1-3 p.m. on Dec. 5, 7, 12, 14, 19 and 21.

To schedule a viewing outside of these times, contact Nicole Heerlein at communications@cathedralstl.org to find a mutually agreeable time.

For more information on the Saint John's Bible, visit www.archstl.org/bible. 

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