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Igniting the Spiritual Imagination: A 21st Century Bible Enriches Pepperdine's Library of the Future

By Nate Ethell ('08)

21st Century Bible

The monumental impact of the globally acclaimed Saint John's Bible continues to be celebrated by Pepperdine University Libraries nearly one year after receiving the Bible's first volume. As a gift to the Pepperdine community honoring the University's 75th anniversary, the Bible is a historic addition to University Libraries' special collections, intended to dramatically enrich the spiritual life of the school and its students.

"Following the initial meetings that took place between the library and the Saint John's Bible team, we were immediately intrigued and decided to bring the Bible to campus for the annual Bible Lectures," said Mark Roosa, dean of Pepperdine University Libraries. "It was enthusiastically welcomed by our community, and the experience of having the Bible on campus helped us envision making a home for it here."

Commissioned by Saint John's Abbey and University, the original Saint John's Bible was the first illuminated, handwritten Bible requested by a Benedictine monastery in more than five centuries. Taking more than a decade to complete, the original work was executed by renowned British calligrapher Donald Jackson, senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Crown Office. Through the Bible's Heritage Program, Pepperdine has ordered one of only 299 copies of the Bible's newly released Heritage Edition, the only fullsize fine art reproduction of the original work. Totaling more than 1,100 pages, the Bible's seven volumes feature all 73 books from the Old and New Testaments.

Saint John's Bible

Despite the use of old-world traditions to create the illuminated manuscript, it already is lauded as a work of art for the 21st century. "Although the Saint John's Bible team used medieval techniques to make the Bible, including quill pens, hand-mixed inks, and vellum pages, the art is decidedly modern," noted Melissa Nykanen, head of special collections and university archives. "Many of the illustrations reference scientific discoveries made in our own age or world events that have taken place in recent years. This gives the Bible a real sense of relevance to our era."

The Bible appeals to many faith traditions, an attribute enthusiastically welcomed by Pepperdine. Following the Benedictines' value on hospitality, the Saint John's Bible intentionally embraces many faith communities in its imagery, revealing the commonalities among them. "One of the goals of the Heritage Edition of the Saint John's Bible is ‘to ignite the spiritual imagination of people around the world of all faith journeys,'" said Melissa. "By sharing this Bible with the communities of Pepperdine and Los Angeles, individuals and communities will be inspired to see and think about the Scriptures in new ways."

University Libraries quickly began integrating the Saint John's Bible into academic and spiritual life following the first volume's arrival. Since arriving on campus last year, the Bible already has been shown to undergraduate religion and graphic novel classes and used for scripture readings in Thanksgiving and Easter services. This fall, it will be enjoyed by convocation groups through the Bible's "Seeing the Word" program, designed to guide reflection and prayer through reading biblical texts and viewing corresponding images from the Bible.

The University is eager to connect with other communities around Los Angeles as well, taking the Bible "on tour" and showcasing it at gatherings with local business and faith communities. "In each of these instances, guests have the opportunity to learn about the Saint John's Bible and its relevance to Pepperdine's history and mission," Melissa explained. "They interact with the Bible up close, and some have even followed up by bringing new visitors to campus to see it in the library."

Fundraising for the Bible in the last year has been exceptional, with the support of the University Libraries campaign committee, as well as Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis, chair of the Saint John's Bible subcommittee. Pacesetting gifts have been made by Eff and Patty Martin, Allan and Peggy Kwong, and Jay and Judy Welker.

"Donors have embraced the Saint John's Bible—not just as a physical acquisition, but as a moving spiritual addition to University culture," said Dean Roosa. "The deep thoughtfulness of the art and the contemplative nature of standing with it have made it a Bible that the community has welcomed wholeheartedly."

With the final volume scheduled to arrive in winter 2013, University Libraries' next fundraising priority for the special collection will be creating a Saint John's Bible alcove. With this dedicated space, one volume will be displayed at all times for the community, creating a unique area in Payson Library for insightful reading of the Bible's text and word art, as well as spiritual contemplation.

"The Saint John's Bible, as a consummate work of faith and art, speaks to the core of Pepperdine, engaging with the University's students and communities on a profound level," reflected Dean Roosa. "It will be a legacy that will last for hundreds of years—lighting the future for generations to come."