By Nikki Rajala
The Visitor

The final volume of the limited, full-sized fine art edition of The Saint John’s Bible was presented to Pope Francis at the Vatican April 17 by the Papal Foundation and St. John’s University in Collegeville.

The Holy Father received “Letters and Revelation,” the last completed volume of the St. Peter Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, from Abbot John Klassen of St. John’s Abbey, Michael Hemesath, president of St. John’s University, and Donald Jackson, the Bible’s artistic director.

“We deliberately opened the particular pages of the Bible, first to the frontispiece of the Book of Revelation,” Abbot Klassen told The Visitor. “During the course of it, we opened it to the last page, which depicts the great closing, the ‘Great Amen.’ ”


Pope Francis accepts the final volume of a limited, fine-art edition of The St. John’s Bible at the end of an annual audience with the Papal Foundation at the Vatican April 17. Also pictured are, from left, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Benedictine Abbot John Klassen of St. John’s Abbey; Michael Hemesath, president of St. John’s University; Rob Culligan, SJU vice president for institutional advancement; Donald Jackson, the Bible’s artistic director; and Katharine and Dan Whalen. Photo by CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

They ended the presentation with the illumination on the second-to-last page, which is the image of the New Jerusalem, the future, Abbot Klassen said. It fulfills the Old Testament prophecy that the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem will never close and are open to all.

“[Pope Francis’] hands shot up in the air when he saw the illumination of the New Jerusalem, as in expression of his great pleasure,” Jackson said.

He described the artworks in which he intentionally used contemporary elements — imagery such as tanks in modern warfare, oil derricks and cancer cells, depicting the fall of Satan, and then the bright colors representing the New Jerusalem in the dream of John.

An artist and calligrapher, Jackson led a team of artists and calligraphers over a period of more than 15 years. At age 77, he completed Revelation as its sole artist and calligrapher.

Volumes of The Saint John’s Bible were presented to previous popes: a giclée volume of “Gospels and Acts” to Pope John Paul in 2004 and an Apostles edition of the “Wisdom Books” to Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

St. John’s continues to exhibit pages of The Saint John’s Bible, Abbot Klassen said. And it continues to work on many different ways to use the Bible, from reading in churches and reflecting on the texts to helping Christians to access the meaning of the text and visualize it.

The pope was given a bound edition, but the original pages of the Bible at St. John’s have not been bound, Abbot Klassen said.

“There’s a certain irreversibility to binding the originals. Without the binding, we can juxtapose illuminations from different volumes and can how see different parts of the Bible relate to each other in a fresh and exciting way.”

“It was a rare honor and privilege to be able to personally present the last volume of The Saint John’s Bible to Pope Francis,” Hemesath said. “The Saint John’s Bible is yet another example of the ways the monks of St. John’s impact the world far beyond Collegeville.”

The presentation was part of the annual meeting of the Papal Foundation. Others from the delegation from St. John’s included Katharine and Dan Whalen, friends of The Saint John’s Bible, and Rob Culligan, SJU vice president for institutional advancement.

The St. Peter Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible was a gift to the Holy See from the Papal Foundation through the generosity of the Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst Foundation.

The edition is in the same seven volumes as the original. To date, three of the 12 Apostles Edition have been acquired. Besides the St. Peter Apostle Edition at the Vatican, one set is at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, and the third is owned by a family.