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Bible takes the artistic spotlight at St. Joseph Cathedral

Last September, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra transformed St. Joseph Cathedral into a formidable music hall for an evening in celebration of the cathedral's sesquicentennial.

The celebration continues this month in the visual arts.

Through March 19, the Lady Chapel of the cathedral is hosting a unique display of 13 exhibit reproductions of the Saint John's Bible, an entirely handwritten and illuminated Bible featuring stunning artwork and elaborate script that incorporates both Old World workmanship and a 21st century interpretation of Scripture.

Organizers of the exhibit opened it to the public Sunday afternoon.

The Lady Chapel, normally a worship space, now has the feel of a small art gallery. Framed pages of the Bible hang on black draperies, accompanied by detailed descriptions of the illuminations.

Introducing the show is a five-minute video featuring Donald Jackson, a Welsh calligrapher and artist who has long dreamed of creating a new, handwritten Bible and is the chief creative director of the project.

Jackson and a team of scribes and artists commissioned by the Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., began work on the Saint John's Bible on Ash Wednesday, March 8, 2000.

They've completed five of seven volumes so far.

Some of that original work has been on limited display in art galleries in Minneapolis and in Omaha, Neb.

The cathedral has neither the proper security nor the appropriate climate and lighting controls to accommodate the original pages, but the Benedictines were happy to loan the 13 full-size reproductions for the show.

"This is bringing the word into visual form. It is captured so beautifully," said Barbara Shanahan, director of the Catholic Biblical School, who was on hand for the exhibit's opening.

The exhibit should help draw people to the cathedral, the central church of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, said Monsignor James F. Campbell, rector.

"It appeals to a cross section of the area, not just Catholics," said Campbell.

Among the featured works are the Gospel of Matthew frontispiece, illustrating the "Genealogy of Christ." Christianity's ties to Judaism and Islam are subtly woven into the illuminations, which include, for example, intricate gold medallions inspired by illuminations common in the Quran, the Muslim holy scripture.

Previous events in conjunction with the celebration of the cathedral's 150 years incorporated music and literature, but organizers did not want to forget art, and the Saint John's Bible seemed most appropriate.

"Cathedrals have proclaimed the word of God through all these centuries. It just seemed to fit," said Joyce Fink, one of the organizers.

The Rev. Michael Patella, a Benedictine monk and chairman of the committee on illumination and text for the Saint John's Bible, will expand on that theme at 7:30 tonight in the cathedral.

The cathedral's sesquicentennial also will be commemorated with a Bach festival in March, a presentation of "The Passion" by the Niagara University theater arts department in April and a special Mass with Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York City, as celebrant April 30.


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