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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Forming My Imagination about “Speaking of Faith”

Krista Tippett, Host

I’m personally thrilled to be doing this week’s show — which took a few of us up to one of my favorite places in the world, St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. St. John’s is one of the largest Benedictine communities in the world and has always been a remarkable place. Its wide orbit has touched many lives and many leading institutions, globally.

In the 1960s, as St. John’s was founding HMML, it also helped found Minnesota Public Radio (our parent company) as well as an ecumenical institute that formed my imagination in the early years of what became this radio program. I came to think of St. John’s as a spiritual center of gravity and a kind of secret center of the world. It is certainly one of those “thin places” the ancient Celts spoke about — a place where, again and again and with astounding creativity, the temporal and eternal seem to touch.

If you’d like to read about the ways in which the Benedictines of St. John’s inspired and shaped Speaking of Faith, we’ve excerpted some of my writing about it in a PDF file for you.

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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.

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