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SJU Library Blog

Marginalia and the Saint John’s Bible

by Cynthia Slater on 2021-10-18T15:23:00-04:00 | Comments


The pages in the Saint John's Bible have been turned to the book of Matthew in Gospels and Acts which shows a dragonfly done by artist Chris Tomlin and the book of Proverbs in the Wisdom volume displaying the illumination of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. 

Marginalia, which is writing or decoration on the margins of a page, is a tradition going back to the Middle ages where both text and decoration were seen in book margins.  The marginalia of the Saint John’s Bible contains small crosses marking verses quoted in the Rule of St. Benedict, details alluding to major donors funding each volume, small animals inserting forgotten lines into the text, and Chris Tomlin’s nature marginalia.  

A detail about place is seen in the Seven pillars illumination. The artist Donald Jackson put in a rendering of the Church at St. Benedict’s Monastery which is down the road from the St. John’s Monastery in Minnesota where the Bible was created. The marginalia on the right hand page says “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.” The Wisdom books are about the nurturing, feminine and creative aspects of God. 

The Dragonfly marginalia reflects Chris Tomlin’s study of the natural world in Minnesota. He draws birds, insects and animals throughout the Bible. 

In a blog post Father Michael Patella, who headed the Committee on Illuminations and Text during the creation of the Saint John’s Bible was asked: Ultimately, what do you think will be the lasting legacy of the SJB project? He answered: I think the lasting legacy will be a realization of the role of art in faith and theology.  Scripture is more than a text.  Truth is more than a treatise or essay.  Some things can only be expressed with color, design, and image…

You can see these beautiful examples of marginalia on the first floor of the Drexel Library in the display cases for the Saint John’s Bible. The pages will be turned again in early November.  

- Lesley Carey, SJU Archives & Special Collections

Learn more at Saint John's Bible at Saint Joseph's University


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