The Process of Creating the St. John’s Bible
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Our show for this week — called “Preserving Words and Worlds” — focuses on the pioneering and valiant efforts of manuscript preservation being spearheaded by the Benedictine monks of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s Abbey & University. The importance of the words and language of these precious handwritten texts is vital to understanding other civilizations and cultures, as Fr. Columba Stewart and Getatchew Haile point out.
But, these two scholars speak as much about the importance of the container itself. The vessel gives context to the manuscript, and to the people producing and using these texts. Elements like the type of paper used, the binding, the style of calligraphy, the marginalia, the general wear-and-tear all indicate how it was used, who used it, and, in essence, its innate value to those people using it and their ancestors.
When I think about it this way, I better understand why the same institution also commissioned a multi-million dollar project to create the first handwritten Bible since the printing press was invented. It’s what they did in medieval times and that monastic legacy is being carried on today, albeit with the expedience of modern technology and communication.
Artistic efforts like these I find true and sincere, not a fancy facade masking an ordinary box. Hearkening to ancient traditions and materials, this illuminated Bible incorporates hand-ground inks and eggs and feathers and vellum with platinum, gold, and silver foils. And, being a project of the modern era, it uses computers and sophisticated software programs and broadband connection to lay out the book and communicate with a host of overseers in making everything’s correct.
This short video about the St. John’s Bible project is instructive, to be sure, but it also gives me insight into the magic of creating a manuscript — and the monumental task of coordinating it.
Repossessing Virtue: Joan Chittister on Christmas
» download (mp3, 16:33)
by Krista Tippett, host
I spoke with Joan Chittister this week. She’s been thinking and writing about Christmas, the prism through which economic crisis is coming home uncomfortably to many of us right now. It is a wonderful, eloquent 15 minutes of her energetic wisdom — highly recommended listening. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh of the kingly biblical gift-givers, she’s learned, are not displays of wealth but of blessings of character — generosity, serenity, and spirit.
Such states of being are counterintuitive, perhaps, at this moment in time. But perhaps they are precisely the qualities that can help us emerge with our humanity intact and enriched. I wish them for myself, and for all of us, in this season.
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Each month I look forward to ripping off the plastic wrap of the latest issue of some of the smartest, wittiest, snarkiest writing in magazine format — that’s right, in the tech rag Wired. But, it isn’t the paid contributors that I turn to first. Oh no, the real sass and verve come from its readers — the ones who fire the opening salvo showcased in its Rants section.
And, who should be one of the headliners but Father Columba Stewart, whom Krista recently interviewed at home base of St. John’s University in upstate Minnesota. We tentatively have this upcoming program scheduled for broadcast some week after the glitterball drops. Father Columba’s letter to the editor, cleverly titled “Geek Orthodox,” gives you an idea of this man’s savviness and how dialed in he and his brothers at the Abbey are. They’re progressive agenda in preserving and digitizing ancient manuscripts (watch our video) from India, Ethiopia, and Georgia (not the state) for a centralized repository is exciting and, dare I say, sustainable. And it’s hard not to admire Columba Stewart’s humorous approach to all his pursuits, including reading pop culture periodicals:
In “When Tech Attacks!” (Start, issue 16.09), you say “Christian theologians denounced the printing press as the work of the devil.” Whoa! It wasn’t so simple. Remember, the monks of the Dark Ages preserved classical civilization by copying its texts, making possible the technological discoveries of later centuries. And monks welcomed the printing press. Gutenberg’s most famous project was a Latin Catholic Bible, and you can almost hear the relief in the cloister: “You mean we don’t have to write it out by hand anymore?” As a Benedictine monk working with the world’s largest archive of digital and microfilm images of old manuscripts, I have strong feelings about both the preservation of ancient culture and the benefits of modern technology. Whatever you might say about other neighborhoods in the Church, we Benedictines have always been in the technological vanguard.
(photo: Colleen Scheck)
SoundSeen: Prepping (Smelling) Manuscripts with Columba
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Yesterday, a few producers (Colleen, Mitch, and I) drove about an hour northwest of Minneapolis to the town of Collegeville to scout locations for Krista’s interview with Father Columba Stewart. This small Minnesota town is home to the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey and University, and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML, or “himmel” as I’ve heard it pronounced).
If you’ve heard of their work, it’s most probably for the St. John’s Bible, a project commissioning the first handwritten, illuminated Bible since the printing press made its appearance in the 15th century. But, these archivists also preserve and digitize an incredibly large number of manuscripts from places all over the globe, including the world’s largest collection of Ethiopian manuscripts and continuing projects in Syria, Lebanon, Malta, Ukraine, India, and many countries in Europe.
For this morning’s interview, Mitch asked Columba to bring a few examples. So, he and Wayne Torborg pulled out a few and gave us a preview. If only you could smell them. Ooh la la!