FAIRMONT - A simple local alumni gathering has transformed into an exhibition of historical significance.
Bart Franta was organizing a get-together for graduates of St. John's University when he had an idea - what if they would give a presentation on the St. John's Bible?
"I thought they would say no," he said. "I just thought I would ask."
In May 2004, a reproduction of the first volume of The Saint John’s Bible was presented to Pope John Paul II. Abbot John Klassen, Donald Jackson and Dietrich Reinhart hold the book.
But they said yes, and at 4:30 Thursday evening at Red Rock Center for the Arts in Fairmont, reproductions of the first handwritten, illuminated Bible by the Benedictines since the invention of the printing press 500 years ago will be on display for both alumni and the public.
The Bible took 12 years to create. Completed in 2011, it consists of seven volumes, 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide, written on calf vellum.
"It is going to appeal to art lovers, people interested in history, the people who read their Bibles every day and the people who maybe need a little inspiration to read their Bibles every day," Franta said.
The creation of the St. John's Bible began in 1995, when a scribe to Queen Elizabeth II expressed his desire to undertake a handwritten Bible. Father Eric Hollas, then director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., and monk at St. John's Abbey, commissioned him to do just that.
Artists in Wales conferred with scholars in Collegeville to create a modern-looking Bible using old-time techniques. Gold leaf and hand-mixed paints illuminate passages using decidedly modern images, such as DNA strands to illustrate sections on genealogy, images of Earth based on Hubble telescope images, and Jesus in blue jeans depicting a farmer sowing seeds.
"They weren't trying to make a Middle Aged Bible," Franta said. "They were trying to make a Bible for the new millenium."
With the actual St. John's Bible stored at the university or touring museums for display, it will be reproductions available for viewing Thursday, but they are worth seeing in their own right.
"These Heritage Edition volumes are stunning reproductions on paper of the original," said Tim Ternes, director of the St. John's Bible at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library.
Hollas will give a presentation at 6 p.m. Thursday about the project.
"I will be talking about the making of the St. John's Bible and what themes are addressed in some of the pieces of art in it," he said. "I like to imagine that the artist is doing some preaching here, and so I want to explore what the artists may be saying about the biblical text. ... It is not a scholarly presentation, so all anyone needs to bring along is a little bit of curiosity. I will supply the rest."