Pax Christi Award

The SJU Bible Team receives Pax Christi Award

The presentation to Donald Jackson, Artistic Director and Principal Illuminator of The Saint John’s Bible, and others was part of a week-long 25thAnniversary Dedication Tour

By Frank Rajkowski

That certainly describes the efforts of Donald Jackson and the team of calligraphers and artists responsible for writing and illuminating The Saint John’s Bible.

So it was only fitting that they received the award at a 25th Anniversary Dinner held Tuesday at Inner Temple Hall in London. The event was part of a week-long 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour which began Sunday when a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible was presented to Sarum College in honor of The Reverend Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury from 2011-2021. 

The tour continues Wednesday when The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will receive The Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible on behalf of the Church of England at Lambeth Palace Library in London. It is one of only 12 Fine Art Apostles Edition sets in existence.

Then, on Saturday, Canterbury Cathedral will receive a rare, full-size Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible in an Evensong service at Canterbury Cathedral. The gift to the oldest Christian community in England is made possible through the generosity of an anonymous American couple through The Catharine Elizabeth Laney Trust.

But Tuesday was about honoring Jackson and his team. In 1998, Saint John’s Abbey and Saint John’s University sought to “ignite the spiritual imagination of people throughout the world by commissioning a work of art that illuminates the world today.” They commissioned Jackson to handcraft the original manuscript of The Saint John’s Bible, which took place at Jackson’s scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales.

It marked the first time in 500 years that a Benedictine Monastery had commissioned a handwritten, illuminated Bible. The construction paralleled that of its medieval predecessors – written on vellum, using quills, natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments and gold leaf while incorporating modern themes, images and technology of the 21st century.

Jackson’s team was made up of skilled scribes, some who worked at the scriptorium and others who took pages of vellum back to their own studios. They met at regular intervals to hold together the weight, texture and appearance of the script. The Bible also incorporated art works from several guest artists whom Jackson selected.

“Twenty-five years ago, Donald Jackson posed the question: ‘Do you want it? Do you want me to bring the word of God to life on a page?’ ” College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University President Brian J. Bruess, Ph.D. said at Tuesday’s event.

“And an entire community responded with a heartfelt ‘Amen.’ The accomplishments of those of you who worked on The Saint John’s Bible are truly remarkable and beyond compare.”

Jackson is considered one of the world’s foremost Western calligraphers. He was appointed a visiting lecturer at the Camberwell College of Art, London at age 20. Later, he was appointed a scribe to the Crown Office at the House of Lords. As a scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, he was responsible for the creation of official state documents. In 1985, he received the Medal of The Royal Victorian Order (MVO).

In 1997, he was named Master of the 600-year-old Guild of Scriveners of the city of London, and he is the author of a book entitled The Story of Writing.  

“We are humbled to receive the Pax Christi Award,” Jackson said in his acceptance speech. “Thank you from all of us. Thanks for giving us the chance to do what we do. 

“Calligraphers spend most of our time working alone, but we had the experience on this project to work together,” he continued. “We get rewarded from time to time for what we do, but tonight is a different type of award that values us and what we have made.

“The best word to describe the purpose and meaning of this project is ‘providence.’”

The Pax Christ Award has been presented to 63 individuals, dating back to 1963. Past recipients include SJU graduate Eugene McCarthy (1964), who went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and mounted campaigns for President, Andrew Young (1970), who worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and later went on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, singer Amy Grant (1994) and Mary Jo Copeland (1995), the founder of Sharing and Caring Hands. 

Donald and Mabel Jackson (photo courtesy of Brad Neary)

The Pax Christi Award (photo courtesy of Brad Neary)

Abbot John Klassen, OSB (right), CSB and SJU President Brian J. Bruess, Ph.D. (center) and Donald Jackson speak Tuesday in London (photo courtesy of Carol Bruess)