St. Columba’s, Inverness presents its vicar with a copy of the Saint John’s Bible 

Jan 3, 2024 | #News&Events, #Stories

The Rev. Dr. Vincent Pizzuto received the bible as a birthday gift 

Photo courtesy of Fernando Esponda; Story by Georgiana Vines, with additional input from Penelope Washbourn

When St. Columba’s members Ann Hall and Penelope Washbourn returned home last July from an Episcopal Church program on worship in the time of climate change, they brought with them more than just ideas for experimental liturgies.

During the program, held in Collegeville, Minnesota, they had the opportunity to admire several huge pages of the famous Saint John’s Bible on display in the Saint John’s University Library. Overwhelmed by the bible’s beauty and inspiring origins, they urged members of the St. Columba’s altar guild and others to raise money for a smaller, seven-volume version of the bible as a surprise birthday present for the Rev. Dr. Vincent Pizzuto, St. Columba’s vicar, and a New Testament scholar.

The Saint John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten illuminated bible in 500 years. It was commissioned in 1998 by the Benedictine monastery at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville and took renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson and others twenty years to complete. It is exceptional for its contemporary artwork and gold-illuminated title pages, which were completed using traditional tools and materials.

“This set of seven volumes at St. Columba’s is a smaller version of the bible’s vellum pages — which are too big to bind — and this set is still very large. We will need to get a special stand for its display,” Washbourn said.

The gift was presented to Pizzuto during coffee hour following worship on the Sunday before his birthday on Sept. 18. “It was unveiled while singing and giving him a toast. It was still in a shipping box so he had to open it up. It was a real surprise,” Washbourn said. Pizzuto’s friends at St. Columba’s wanted to give him a copy of this beautiful bible, she said, knowing it would also enhance the church’s library and be shared with the congregation.

”Churches such as ours normally do not have the resources,” she said. The bible cost around $700. Fundraising began when Ann Hall showed pictures she had taken of the Saint John’s Bible to Father Pizzuto. She said he exclaimed, “I want that!”

“And so other members of the altar guild, overhearing this exchange, began a secret plan to raise money to get him a copy for his birthday,” Hall said.

The Saint John’s Bible received national attention when twelve new “Apostles Editions” recently were made, representing each of the twelve apostles. They went to places like the Washington National Cathedral, the Library of Congress, and the Vatican. Each set of the seven volumes has images and motifs that represent the themes of each of the books of the bible and also repeat across volumes.

The conference that Washbourn and Hall attended in Minnesota was sponsored by The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission for six congregations in The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada as part of a year-long program to help them develop new models and practices for worship and mission in response to climate change.

Washbourn and Hall are members of St. Columba’s Council of Ecological Discipleship.

See photographs of the original Saint John’s Bible and learn more about its origins in this PBS Newshour story.