LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Before the printing press, books were written out by hand. Now, a rare, fine-art version of a handwritten bible is on exhibit in La Crosse.
"Some people will come just because it was a monumental literary project," said Audrey Quanrud, Associate Director of the Franciscan Spirituality Center where the bible is on display. "Some people will come because they are greatly attracted to Art. But some people will come for religious reasons."
The Saint John's Bible was commissioned in 2000 by Benedictine monks at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. It was handwritten using inks, tools and techniques that are hundreds of years old.
"They wanted to show that this has been going on for hundreds, thousands of years, really, going back even before Christianity," said Quanrud. "Where people would very lovingly preserve these words and pray with them and think about them. So they wanted some of the ancient techniques in there to show there was no break in that tradition."
It took 11 years to complete the Bible and less than 300 sets of the Heritage Edition exist in the world today. The Heritage Edition is a limited-edition, fine-art reproduction of The Saint John's Bible. Each set of the Heritage Edition has seven volumes, four of which are on display.
Although the creation of this Bible was deeply traditional, the modern images and translation makes The Saint John's Bible a reflection of culture and religion today.
"Now days, people will look at a bible from, say the year 500, and we could instantly see images in there that tell us kind of what was going on way back then," said Quanrud. "100 years from now, 200, 500 years from now, when they look at these bibles they can see parts of our world in here, like images from outer space that you would not see in a medieval manuscript."
The images or "illuminations" are one of the most striking features of the scripture and are meant to shed light on the words of God.
"When you look at it, you notice how the light shines off the gold treatment," said Quanrud. "The belief is that God is speaking to us, God is shedding light on his word for us today. And that's why it was very important to the monks that there be modern images as well as ancient images in these illuminations. So you'll see things like depictions of cave paintings in the creation story but you'll also see DNA and you'll see images from the Hubble space telescope. They're in the illuminations too."
Those who visit the exhibit are encouraged to turn the pages and touch the illuminations. They only ask you wash your hands.
"It helps make it not a dead book, a historical book," said Quanrud. "But the word of God that's alive today."
Four volumes of the Heritage Edition are on display at the Franciscan Spirituality Center at 920 Market Street in La Crosse until April 26. The Franciscan Spirituality Center will also be hosting workshops on the calligraphy techniques and illuminations while The Saint John's Bible is on display. More information on these workshops can be found at the Franciscan Spirituality Center website at http://www.fscenter.org/
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