Support for R1 Status, Illuminated: Baylor Libraries Acquire Heritage Edition of Saint John’s Bible (From the 2019 ITS & Libraries Magazine)

Crucifixion, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

When calligrapher Donald Jackson sat down with a group of Benedictine monks at Minnesota’s St. John’s Abbey in the mid-1990s, he could not have dreamed that his idea to create the first medieval-style, illuminated version of the Bible in almost 500 years would one day impact scholars at Baylor University. But that’s exactly the kind of impact the vision of a small group of people can have on a broader community when it combines God’s Word and the resurrection of an ancient bookmaking technique. Add in Baylor’s dedication to providing an “unambiguously Christian educational environment” as part of its academic strategic plan and you have the basis for why the University Libraries acquired one of only 299 copies of the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition in February 2019.

The Inspiration
When Jackson – an artist based in Wales who once served as the official calligrapher to Queen Elizabeth II – met with the monks at St. John’s Abbey, he proposed an ambitious plan to create the first medieval-style Bible created for a religious order since the invention of the printing press. Envisioned as a project to celebrate the coming millennium celebration in 2000, the monks agreed and worked with Jackson to assemble a group of artists, religious scholars, and theologians to produce the work. 
Jackson and his artists acquired the rights to use the New Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible, began acquiring the necessary tools – calfskin for vellum, extremely rare inks, turkey- and goose-feather quills – and began the painstaking work of illustrating, illuminating, and calligraphing the Bible as envisioned for modern readers. Drawing inspiration from science (the use of images of DNA sequences and images from the Hubble Space Telescope), social welfare (images of people from minority and underrepresented groups), and modern life (cars, oilfields, even the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers), Jackson and his group made slow, meticulous work through the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The Heritage Edition
As progress was made on what would become known as the Saint John’s Bible (SJB for short), it became clear that having only a single copy in a vault at St. John’s University would not achieve the group’s vision to spread the SJB around the world. Work soon began on what became known as the Heritage Edition of the SJB: an extremely high-quality, handcrafted, limited edition facsimile of the original SJB that could be sold in seven-volume sets for private purchase, institutional acquisition, or as part of library holdings around the world. 
The Heritage Edition features the same art and calligraphy of the original SJB but in a manner that allows for small batch reproduction. Instead of being printed on vellum, for example, the pages are printed on 100% uncoated cotton paper; the gold and platinum leaf in the SJB are replaced with gold and silver foils; unlike the pages of the SJB, which are unbound, the Heritage Edition volumes are handbound by a single craftswoman at a bookbinding firm in Arizona. In all, the Heritage Edition becomes its own work of art, a formidable and beautiful complement to the original.

Garden of Eden, Donald Jackson with contributions from Chris Tomlin, Copyright 2003, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Heritage Edition Comes to Baylor Libraries

The Baylor Libraries had been pursuing the purchase of a Heritage Edition for some time before everything came together in the Fall of 2018 to facilitate a purchase. A group of Libraries faculty and staff working under interim dean John S. Wilson – including interim associate deans Sha Towers and Ken Carriveau, along with central libraries’ special collections director Beth Farwell – worked with the Heritage Edition Program to arrange a purchase, and the deal was closed in early 2019. Baylor’s copy of the Heritage Edition, certified number 105 of 299, arrived on campus on February 20.  
Plans are now underway to celebrate the Heritage Edition’s arrival with a series of public programs, including a blessing and dedication ceremony to be held at Truett Seminary in September, and a public lecture by a speaker provided by St. John’s Abbey later in the Fall 2019 semester. A series of public programs, class engagements, researcher encounters, and on-site visits are already being scheduled and undertaken, with Baylor Libraries faculty and staff taking the lead in connecting the Heritage Edition with interested parties in Waco and beyond.
“Opportunities to use the Heritage Edition in scholarship and as inspiration for new creations are as limitless as our community members’ imaginations,” said Towers. “We are blessed to have this incredible work in our collection, and we are eager to work with all who find its art, craftsmanship, and inspired Word to be of personal or professional interest.”
To learn more about the Baylor Libraries’ Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible, visit

This story originally appeared in the 2019 Baylor University ITS & Libraries Magazine. To join our mailing list for future editions, email us at

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