Lecture series examines Saint John’s Bible with visual art, discussion


John Walker / Hilltop Views

The Saint John’s Bible is a hand illuminated and illustrated text. It is currently on display in the Munday Library.

Students and faculty alike mingled between the rows of Jones Auditorium. As University Provost Andrew Prall took the stage to introduce Rev. Michael Patella, a hush fell over the room. “Igniting the Spiritual Imagination: The Saint John’s Bible In Its’ Cultural Context”, part of the Most Reverend John McCarthy Lecture Series, was an opportunity  to bring students up close and personal with the illuminated Saint John’s Bible allowing them to explore some of its intricate illustrations.

The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten and illuminated text since the invention of the printing press and took around 11 years to complete. St. Edward’s University’s own Munday Library will be displaying it for the entire school year.

“The Bible is explosive in its possibilities, imagination and message. It allows for various forms of understanding, and to say it’s the word of the Lord and black and white is erroneous and gets into a lot of trouble,” Rev. Patella of Saint John’s University said. “Use your imagination and do not be afraid of it.”

The event consisted of a slideshow with various images of the different illustrations found in the Bible, based on various sections of the book. While some were more literal, such as the one based on Jacob’s Ladder, others had modern interpretations incorporated into it, such as the one based on the school’s homecoming bonfire. 

Rev. Patella spoke with much passion about the Saint John’s Bible. His discussion incited awe over the beautiful images displayed during the light show after his presentation. Many in attendance let out audible gasps once the lights dimmed and the projections began. Illustrations from the Saint John’s Bible were projected all over the walls of Jones Auditorium, timed to either beautiful choral music or modern songs that matched the mood of the art. The illustrations provoked better understanding of the messages in the Bible. 

“That’s what this was supposed to do, start getting new pictures in your mind and start setting a new course for understanding the Bible,” Rev. Patella said. The word works with the image and the image with the word.” 

Many of the faculty who attended found the artifact to be quite thought-provoking. “The discursive (words) and non discursive (illustrations) interplay found in the Saint John’s Bible is provocative. This textual interplay shows us that the Bible is not a document that only speaks to the past. It is a living text that comments on the present,” Stephen King, professor of communication, said. 

Rev. Patella suggests that we are all part of the biblical tradition created by the Saint John’s Bible.  

“It shows it’s a book for all time,” he said. “It’s not historical. It’s written in history, but it’s a living history, now living tradition, that continues today and on to tomorrow. So we’re just part of the stream of bringing on to a new generation another interpretation of the Bible.”