Saint John's Bible, by Donald Jackson. Liturgical Press (Collegeville, Minn.)

Most readers have by now heard of the Saint John's Bible, the most recent illuminated copy of Scripture sponsored by St. John's Abbey and the Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minn. The project, begun several years ago, is slowly reaching completion under the guidance of Donald Jackson, Artistic Director.

According to a recent Liturgical Press catalog, the following five of seven volumes of the Saint John's Bible have been released: Gospels and Acts (volume 6; 2005; $64.95), Psalms (volume 4; 2006; $59.95), Pentateuch (volume 1; 2006; $69.95), Prophets (volume 5; 2007; $69.95), and Wisdom Books (volume 3; 2007; $64.95). The two remaining books, for which no release date is mentioned, are Historical Books (volume 2) and Letters and Revelation (volume 7).

All volumes are illuminated in gold. As Susan Sink explains in The Art of Saint John's Bible: A Reader's Guide to Pentateuch, Psalms, Gospels and Acts (Collegeville, Minn., 2007, $14.95), ''In an illuminated Bible, the art attends to the revelation in the words.'' She adds, ''Text and image both reflect God's presence, both reveal God's mystery.''

Under the direction of Jackson, one of the world's leading calligraphers who lives and works from his scriptorium in Wales, other illuminators include Hazel Dolby, Hampshire, England; Thomas Ingmire, San Francisco; Andrew Jamieson, Somerset, England; and Suzanne Moore, Vashon Island, Wash- ington. Aidan Hart, Shropshine, Wales, serves as the iconographer; Sally Mae Joseph, Monmouthshire, Wales, as a scribe/illuminator and Senior Artistic Consultant; and Chris Tomlin, London, is the Natural History illustrator.

The English translation of the Bible used in all seven volumes is the New Revised Standard Version. According to Sink, ''Each page takes seven to ten hours to write, the scribes at the scriptorium in Wales working steadily and daily at the task.'' Scribes include Sue Hufton, London; Izzy Pludwinski, Jerusalem; and Brian Simpson, Leicestershire, England, along with Jackson and Joseph already mentioned above.

Sink states, ''The project is a source of reflection, for the team that creates it and for everyone who views it either in reproduction or at exhibits traveling throughout the world.''

Sink has also authored The Art of the Saint John's Bible: A Reader's Guide to Wisdom Books and Prophets (Collegeville, Minn., 2008, $14.95). Besides Sink's books mentioned above, there is Illuminating the Word (Collegeville, MN, 2006, $39.95) by Christopher Calderhead, who takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Saint John's Bible project. The volume tells the story of the makers of the Bible and the community at St. John's Abbey and University.

In the Preface, Christopher De Hamel, Gaylord Donnelley Librarian, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, United Kingdom, writes, ''The whole project is either utter madness or magnificent good fortune.'' He continues, ''A whole series of chance circumstances have unexpectedly come together to result in the commissioning of an entire Bible copied by hand. For the first time in about five-and-a-half centuries, since Johann Gutenberg began to sell copies of the earliest printed Bible, an otherwise entirely sane American institution has ordered a new Bible to be made by a process which most people would assume had been rendered obsolete by the invention of printing.''

In The Saint John's Bible: An Introduction (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2007), a short, non-paginated book, Susan Sink explains: ''The manuscript is written on calfskin vellum. It takes roughly a day's work, between seven and 13 hours, to write a single page. When finished, the project will have used more than 250 skins for 1,150 pages.'' She also explains that the script is unique. Donald Jackson designed it ''with three qualities in mind: the text has to be readable, modern, and appropriately dignified for the Bible.'' TP