Newsday: 'Magnificent' handwritten Bible dazzles at Molloy College

By Bart Jones

About 200 people gathered at Molloy College Friday to marvel at a handwritten Bible produced in the same manner that was employed by medieval monks centuries ago.

Detailed illustrations inside one book of the Saint John's Bible, the first hand-written and illuminated Bible commissioned in 500 years, on display inside the Public Square building on the campus in Rockville Centre, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. By Steve Pfost (Credit: Steve Pfost)

Detailed illustrations inside one book of the Saint John's Bible, the first hand-written and illuminated Bible commissioned in 500 years, on display inside the Public Square building on the campus in Rockville Centre, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. By Steve Pfost (Credit: Steve Pfost)

The St. John's Bible was commissioned by the Benedictine Monks of St. John's College in Collegeville, Minnesota, as a way to commemorate a new millennium and the group's arrival in Minnesota 150 years ago.

It took 15 years and nearly $8 million in donations to complete the work, tackled by a team of artists and calligraphers.

World-renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson, who has worked for Queen Elizabeth II, headed the project, with most of the work done in Wales. Quills and ink were used for authenticity's sake.

Friday's event at Molloy in Rockville Centre was a symposium in which speakers discussed the process of making the 2-foot-by-3-foot Bible, and attendees -- including local high school students -- got a chance to view the copy up close.

"It's one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen," said Brother Patrick Sarsfield, chairman of the religion department at Chaminade. "It's magnificent."

The team produced 299 copies of the 1,150-page Bible -- each valued today at about $150,000. The original, completed in 2011, is stored at St. John's in a climate-controlled glass case, and copies are being held at a number of locations, including the Vatican, Yale University and the Morgan Library in Manhattan.

Molloy is leasing two of the seven volumes that make up the complete Bible -- for $5,000 a year -- and hopes to raise enough money to buy the full set for permanent display, said Edward Thompson, vice president for advancement.

Father Eric Hollas of the Benedictine Monks said the group came up with the idea for the Bible because it wanted to do something other than erecting a building or a statue to mark its anniversary.

"We wanted to make something countercultural," he said, noting that the Bible is capable of lasting 3,000 to 4,000 years. "In a throwaway culture, that is a huge statement."

Beyond the way in which it was made, the Bible is also notable for some of its original artwork, with 21st century influences.

Adam and Eve are depicted as Ethiopians, since that is where the first human beings were thought to exist, Hollas said. The Garden of Eden is also depicted as being in Africa.

There is even a painting of the World Trade Center before it was knocked down by terrorists to accompany passages on forgiveness.

"I think it is really impressive," said Brian Vassallo, 15, a sophomore at Chaminade High School in Mineola. "I don't know how someone could spend that much time" making the Bible. "You have to be very focused."

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