Mary I reveal ‘cultural marker’ project around prestigious bible

Fintan Walsh


Fintan Walsh

Martina Nalaskowska, Edna Egharevea, Kelsey OShea, Josh Carey and Ciara Fitzgerald, students from Patrickswell National School, were amongst the first of many pupils to witness the prestigious heritage edition of the St John's Bible, last week. Picture: Don Moloney / Press 22
MARY Immaculate College welcomed their flagship project for the Limerick City of Culture 2014, where local primary school pupils were given the opportunity to view the prestigious St John’s Bible.

MARY Immaculate College welcomed their flagship project for the Limerick City of Culture 2014, where local primary school pupils were given the opportunity to view the prestigious St John’s Bible.

St John’s Bible was first completed by artist Donald Jackson and a team of scholars, and was the first handwritten bible since the “beginning of the printing press”, according to President Michael A Hayes.

On Thursday, December 5, President Hayes presented the college’s A Year with St John’s Bible in the foyer, as Patrickswell National School pupils studied the “impressive art work” of the illustration.

He told the Limerick Leader that there is a “contemporary feel” about the publication, though it is in its ancient context.

“What we have here are two copies of the heritage edition of that full text. What’s interesting about it is we’re displaying this as part of our contribution to the Limerick City of Culture 2014. Because it’s handwritten, it has beautiful calligraphy, but it also has impressive art work in it. People would be interested in it because of the art and because it’s a holy text. In one sense it becomes a symbol of what we are as an institution and what this institution holds dearly, which is deeply embedded by values.

“What this text does, through the artwork in the text, it has a very contemporary feel about it. It references the Koran in some of the drawings, it references the development of our understanding of DNA, and you have all these little symbols in the text, so you have that contemporary feel. It has an ability to engage in a contemporary way of an ancient text,” he explained.

He added that there is a “sense of gold running through the text”, referring to the first page of Genesis.

“[It] explains the story of creation moving the seven days, you can see the artwork that it goes from chaos to order. And it’s all done very colourfully. When you get to the seventh day, it’s done in gold. God enters into the world and brings a sense of order to it. So you have that symbolism running through it. You have that sense of gold running right through the text,” he said.

Mr Hayes said the presentation of the St John’s Bible reflects Mary Immaculate’s “rich tradition”.

“We’re an institution that has a very rich tradition - the oldest third level institution in Limerick. But it’s also part of a much larger tradition; the Catholic intellectual tradition, which goes back to the fourth century, with there were establishments of monasteries as centres of learning. We were invited by the Benedictine community of St John’s, Minnesota, to host this text of the St John’s Bible.

“You can’t look at today without understanding yesterday. You can’t plan tomorrow without understanding today. Part of the tradition of Europe - our legislation emanates from this tradition and the values we espouse - comes in part from the Christian tradition. Part of the tasks today is to make that link. There’s a very rich religious tradition in the whole of Ireland, but also particularly in Limerick. This exhibition gives us one opportunity to reflect that in the year of culture,” he explained.

To celebrate the National City of Culture 2014, Mary Immaculate College will host a wide range of workshops for primary and secondary school students around Limerick, in relation to the two heritage editions of the St John’s Bible.

College staff and local artists throughout the year will showcase calligraphy workshops as part of the City of Culture 2014, as well as public lectures by members of St John’s Minnesota. The first of this series of lectures will be by with a Michael Patella OBS, on January 29, who served as chairperson of the Illumination and Text committee for the original manuscript.

Michael A Hayes revealed that this project has not been funded by any grants and is an independent project in association with the City of Culture 2014. He added that this is a “cultural marker” for the third level institution.