- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Scribes with quills in hand were once the conduits of history, connecting ink to vellum, painstakingly preserving the records of the world.

Then, in the 1400s, the printing press virtually put scribes out of business.

Later came the Internet and hand-held devices, relegating handwriting to the bottom shelf of an ever-increasingly paperless world.

But the art of handwriting is not completely lost. In fact, it is being showcased in a special way at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley this Easter season.

More than 15 years ago, the Benedictine St. John’s University in Minnesota began work on its millennium project, a seven-volume, handwritten, illuminated manuscript containing all 73 books of the Catholic Bible.

To share it with the rest of the world, creators are producing 299 museum-quality volumes, all hand-bound in Phoenix, called the Heritage Edition.

Jim Triggs, executive director of the Heritage Edition, said the seminal edition is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in 500 years.

One of the reproductions is finding a permanent home at Paradise Valley’s Franciscan Renewal Center, he said.

Triggs said the St. John’s Bible is the first handwritten Bible of its scale since medieval times.

The 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.

Triggs said the mission of the project is to ignite the spiritual imagination of people around the world.

The original St. John’s Bible is a work of art sprung from handmade authenticity and detail, a rarity in these modern times, Triggs said.

“This is one of those things - you can read an article about it, but when you see it live, there’s a wow factor,” he said. “Whenever I’ve done a presentation about this Bible, inevitably there is somebody who starts crying because they get so emotionally wrapped up in the art.”

The original manuscript sits in the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library on the campus of St. John’s University.

The Heritage Edition sets are currently in production, with the binding being done at Phoenix-based Roswell Bookbinding, one of few companies in the world with the specialized capabilities to complete such a project.

Triggs said that, so far, 100 sets have been acquired by institutions around the globe, ranging from libraries to churches of many different denominations, including the Vatican outside Rome and St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.

Arizona State University also has a set that was donated in 2010 and is available for viewing at Hayden Library.

The Franciscan Renewal Center, or the Casa, as it is more informally known, has four volumes, with the remaining three to arrive as funds become available.

When applicable, the Casa is using the Heritage Edition volumes for Mass and Easter ceremonies.

“The Franciscan Renewal Center (and ASU) has works of art in their own right. No two seven-volume sets are identical,” Triggs said. “That’s because many of the illuminations required final hand treatments to the gold and silver in order to make them true to the artistic intent of the original.”

The original manuscript was completed in 2011, but Arizonans got their first glimpse of original folios when it toured and was exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum from December 2007 to March 2008.

Steve Nelson, a former trustee of the Phoenix Art Museum and a St. John’s alumnus, said the response was so great and the Heritage Edition so important that Arizona should have a set readily accessible to residents in perpetuity.

Nelson said he and four other St. John’s alumni families decided to give the Heritage Edition to the Casa.

They have raised $100,000 for the four volumes and need about $50,000 more to complete the set.

“The Casa is the perfect home for this Bible,” Nelson said. “The Franciscans and Benedictines have a long history through the ages.”

Roswell Bookbinding was founded in 1960 and built its foundation on rebinding books for the Phoenix Public Library and then other libraries in the state. In 1970, it started binding new books and expanded from there, President Mike Roswell said.

“The most fascinating part of this is how many people have come through to see the Bible,” he said. “People actually come down to the bindery to see us work on it. They’ll call us and say, ‘Hey, I’m in Arizona on vacation. Can I come in and look at it?’ “


Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com

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