And the Word Was Made Beautiful

Pope Francis has moved among us, here in Washington, D.C., for a time—and one lasting result of his visit can be viewed, starting Saturday, at the Library of Congress: a breathtakingly beautiful Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, the first Bible entirely hand-made and illuminated in more than 500 years.

The rare Bible was presented to the Library of Congress and the American people by Saint John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota, which oversaw the creation of the hand-drawn and illuminated original, completed in 2011. The gift, in honor of the Pope and commemorating his visit to the United States, was made possible by GHR Foundation. The Pontiff blessed it as it was presented to Librarian of Congress James Billington today.

The Pope blesses the gift Bible. On left, Abbot John Klassen, Sen. Blunt and Dr. Billington; on right, Speaker Boehner, SJU President Michael Hemesath and GHR Foundation CEO Amy Goldman. Photo by Heather Reed, Office of the Speaker

The Pope blesses the gift Bible. On left, Abbot John Klassen, Sen. Blunt and Dr. Billington; on right, Monsignor Mark Miles, Speaker Boehner, SJU President Michael Hemesath and GHR Foundation CEO Amy Goldman. Photo by Heather Reed, Office of the Speaker

Also present at the ceremony in House Speaker John Boehner’s office were Speaker Boehner, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who heads Congress’ Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, Saint John’s University President Dr. Michael Hemesath, Abbot John Klassen, OSB and GHR Foundation CEO Amy Goldman.

The volume will be on view on the north side of the Great Hall in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First St., S.E., in Washington, D.C. Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 through Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. The Bible can be viewed Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

There are only 12 sets of the Apostles Edition in existence (each set takes seven volumes to encompass the full Bible), including the one donated to the Library. A separate set was presented to the Pope and is available to scholars at the Vatican Library. The original Saint John’s Bible manuscript is in the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John’s Abbey and University. The Bible is a work of art with more than 1,130 pages and 160 illuminations that reflect life in the modern era, measuring 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide when open.

The illuminations bring to life familiar scriptural passages from a modern perspective, both in terms of conveying a multicultural humanity and representations of science, technology, and space travel, in addition to other more contemporary historical events.

St. John’s and GHR Foundation stated that the gift was made in acknowledgement of the Pope’s “devotion to scripture; his concern for the poor, sick and marginalized and for the dignity of all people; his care for creation; and his commitment to justice for all. “

The Library is the home of an extensive array of materials reflecting the world’s broad and varied religious heritage. Its holdings range from a Gutenberg Bible and a collection of more than 1,500 other Bibles to Jewish Talmuds, Tibetan texts, ancient Buddhist scrolls and rare editions of the Qur’an.

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