Donald Jackson works at his tilted desk in the Schoolroom. Jackson was the art director on the Saint John’s Bible and Heritage Edition. -- Provided by Liturgical Press

Archived Story

Rare Bible coming to Austin

Published 1:43pm Saturday, August 6, 2011

Family donates $145K, seven-volume book to library

A rare cultural artifact is coming to the Austin Public Library.

Donald Jackson works at his tilted desk in the Schoolroom. Jackson was the art director on the Saint John’s Bible and Heritage Edition. -- Provided by Liturgical Press

A Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible valued at $145,000 was donated to the library by the family of Don and Dorothy Hodapp. Only 299 editions of the Bible will be printed, making it a rare collectible expected to be appreciated for generations in Austin.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for the community,” said Library Director Ann Hokanson. “It will have a lot of wide appeal to book lovers.”

The Saint John’s Bible is not the typical desk Bible. The edition consists of seven volumes that are 2 feet by 3 feet when open. The Heritage Edition is a precise printing of the original Saint John’s Bible, which was created using medieval techniques. It is the first handwritten illuminated edition of the Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey in 500 years, according to Jim Triggs, executive director of the Heritage Program at Saint John’s University.

Hokanson said it’s a remarkable edition of the Bible with artistic, historical and religious significance.

The original Saint John’s Bible is printed on vellum. The Saint John’s Bible required very large unblemished skins. The Heritage Edition bound for Austin uses pages made 100 percent American cotton made to mimic the effects of vellum. -- Provided by Liturgical Press

“When I saw the books in person, I was blown away,” she said. “I have never seen a more beautiful book in my life.”

Four of the seven volumes will be delivered this fall. The Hodapps described the Bible as donated as their thanks to the community.

“This unusual gift is our thanks to Austin for the many wonderful years our family enjoyed living there,” Don Hodapp said in a news release. “It is our hope that this Bible will be appreciated and enjoyed by all.”

The Saint John’s Bible

The Saint John’s Bible is meant to ignite spiritual imaginations around the world, Triggs said. Despite the religious implications, Heritage Editions will be displayed at private and public institutions.

Triggs said the original handwritten manuscript utilized medieval technologies because it’s a proven technique. He referenced the Book of Kells, which was crafted around 800 B.C. and is still in beautiful condition.

“The tools and techniques used are exactly what was used in medieval days,” Triggs said.

The text features calligraphy on vellum (a thin manuscript made from mammal skin) using quills, hand-made inks and hand-ground pigments. Saint John’s University chose Donald Jackson as the artistic director on the project. Jackson started the project in 1998 and the edition was just recently finished, though an official announcement of the completion is expected in the next few months.

A 21st Century Bible

Though the Saint John’s Bible was created using medieval methods, the text is a New Revised Standard Version of the Bible and the art is modern. One illustration includes a double helix DNA strand. Like early, hand-scribed Bibles, this will give future generations clues of when the Bible was printed, according to Triggs. Other illustrations are inspired by images from the Hubble Telescope.

In May 2004, Pope John Paul II blessed a facsimile of the first volume of The Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey in 500 years. The Austin Public Library is receiving a Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible valued at $145,000. -- Provided by Liturgical Press

“It’s really meant to be a Bible for the 21st century,” Triggs said.

It will also give clues to where the Bible originated. All animals, fauna and insects in the illustrations are native to Minnesota to show where the Bible came from, Triggs said. One artist spent a summer in Minnesota collecting insect and plant samples before returning home to England to work on the piece.

Heritage Edition

The Heritage Edition aims to make the unique Bible accessible to the public. A great amount of detail was used to make it true to the original, Triggs said.

“It’s not just a reproduction,” he said. “It’s much more than that.”

Like the original copy, Jackson began leading the production of the Heritage Edition in 2006. Jackson went through meticulous detail to keep it true to the handcrafted version, according to Triggs.

“An awful lot of thought went into making it true to the original,” he said.

“When you experience the Heritage Edition, you experience the Saint John’s Bible,” he added.

The pages of the edition are 100 percent American Cotton, and the paper was designed specifically for the Saint John’s Bible, according to Triggs.

However, the fabric will be durable, and it’s meant to maintain its integrity for generations. The ink was dried with new ultraviolet technology so the ink wouldn’t bleed or run.

“It’s meant to be around for hundreds of years,” Triggs said.

The original is written on vellum, which is transparent enough to see the text on the other side. Triggs said shading of the opposite text was printed on the cotton pages, because Jackson wanted to duplicate the anticipation of being able to see to the next page.

“That’s really hard to do,” he said.

On display

Each of the 299 Heritage sets is authenticated and initialed by Jackson, according to Triggs.

The number of Heritage Editions is locked into 299, and no new copies will be made in the future, according to Triggs.

“We want the places that receive it to realize they’re getting something special,” he said.

However, the Bible — just like the 299 Heritage Editions — was meant to last for generations.

The original Saint John’s Bible, which will be displayed at Saint John’s University, is very delicate, and Triggs compared it handling the Declaration of Independence.

The library’s Heritage Edition will be much more hardy. It’s designed to be handled.

“The books are designed to be used by people,” Hokanson said.

Groups will be able to read and handle additions, but by appointment with library staff present. Still, the volumes of the Bible will be enclosed during regular business hours, but

A Plexiglas display will be added to the library, where one edition at a time will be on display, likely near the front entrance of the library.