It makes sense to showcase an exhibit on artistic and religious preservation in a state steeped so historically in those traditions. And since that exhibit involves work that took 13 years to complete—and is rooted in an order that's been synonymous with preservation for more than a millennia—it’s fitting that the minds behind that display would extend its run.
I'm speaking, of course, of llluminating the Word: The Saint John's Bible, the exhibit of the modernized tome that's the first illustrated and handwritten Bible commissioned by the Benedictines in 500 years. Originally slated to close in April, the display of 44 pages from the 1,150-page calfskin vellum volume will stay at the New Mexico History Museum at the Palace of the Governors through Dec. 30.
Tom Leech is director of the museum's Palace Press. He was dead set on bringing the work to New Mexico after hearing about it at a book arts conference roughly eight years ago. “Donald Jackson, who's the artistic director—the brains behind The Saint John's Bible—gave the keynote address,” says Leech, “and I was just blown away by this thing.” Leech cites the modern elements of technology and artistry, such as images from the Hubble Space Telescope and visual reinterpretations of events from the last hundred years, as part of what gives the ancient text fresh intrigue. "It's not a facsimile of a medieval Bible by any means."
That bridge between Benedictine methods and modern technology will be explored at the New Mexico History Museum on Sunday, March 25. Father Columba Stewart of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John's University in Minnesota is coming to Santa Fe to deliver a talk titled "Endangered Texts: Preserving Ancient Books the Benedictine Way in the 21st Century." Saint John's commissioned and oversaw the project while it was being created by a group of scribes and illustrators in Wales. Stewart will discuss the 20-odd preservation projects Saint John's is working on in countries like Syria and Jerusalem.
Concurrent with the exhibition and talk is Contemplative Landscape, a show by more than 20 photographers. It depicts religious traditions as practiced by a variety of believers throughout New Mexico. And if that’s not enough spiritual motivation, there’s also a meditation space within the displays. "I think it has really captivated the imagination of a lot of people in a way I just haven't seen with other exhibits," says Leech.