Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Illustrated Bible

I heard a story yesterday morning on public radio (WETA) about an exhibit of a new illustrated Bible, some pages of which will soon be on display at the Library of Congress. This is a full hand drawn bible with the ornate calligraphy and the fantastical illustrations.

The chief calligrapher, Donald Jackson, was for many years the chief calligrapher for the Queen of England. He was amazingly passionate about the importance of writing out important documents. He said that all of us should write something, anything, with whatever medium is convenient. In our age of digital media, that is a startling message. It reminds me of an interview with Shelby Foote, who said that all his books were written longhand with a fountain pen.

The Bible is for Saint John's University in Minnesota. Much of the work will be done by monks in a monastery there. The image of monks in a scriptorium reminded me of books I have read that took place in an abbey.

In The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco the mystery takes place in the scriptorium. Books, philosophy, and the love of knowledge make up the central themes of the story.

In A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. the monastery in the desert of Utah stores the remains of human knowledge after the nuclear holocaust. Only the obstinacy of the monks saves human civilization from losing it all. I read this in high school and have reread it several times. It's one you don't forget.

I hope I get a chance some day to see this new illustrated Bible.