December 28 is my only daughter’s birthday. This year Maria turned 11, and for our annual birthday outing she and I attended the Canton Museum of Art’s exhibit “Illuminating the Word”, which displays many pages – three rooms worth – from the St John’s Bible, which is a hand-written and illuminated composition of every book of Scripture.
The thing took nearly fifteen years to complete. Interestingly, while the project was sponsored by St John’s Benedictine Abbey in Minnesota, none of the scribes were monks. Not only is this the first modern illuminated Bible, it is surely unique in the history of illumination for being written entirely by laypersons, many of them women. And while it was done using only traditional techniques -vellum, gold leaf, goose quill pens, etc.- most of the art has a modern sensibility, as well as multicultural sources. And it is big: the opened book measures two feet by three feet.
And what a work it is. It is as perfect a thing as I have ever seen; utterly beautiful. Indeed, Maria and I marveled at every page, and as a calligrapher I was amazed at the accomplishment; these are complex and highly detailed examples of what is a very unforgiving art.
The exhibit is accompanied by another, “Sacred Voices”, which contains modern art from various religious traditions. In what seems an unfortunate choice, the exhibit is designed to be seen only after viewing “Illuminating the Word”. So what may have been seen as competent art pales after viewing such perfection. It appears second rate, shoddy. The only exceptions to this are a couple examples of elegant Islamic calligraphy.
So we walked back through the Bible exhibit before going to lunch. Even now, several hours later, I feel cleansed and refreshed by the sight of such rare and perfect beauty.
If you live anywhere near Canton Ohio by all means visit the museum. And be prepared for a glimpse into eternity. The exhibit runs through March 2.