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Paynesville Press - June 9, 2004

Paynesville-made Gospel presented to pope

By Michael Jacobson

A replica of the first volume of the St. John's Bible - digitally reproduced in Paynesville by ColorMax - was presented to Pope John Paul II in Rome in May.

Pope John Paul II receiving the replica of the St. John's Bible ColorMax is digitally photographing, archiving, and printing replica versions and art prints of the Bible, the first commissioned, handwritten Bible in 500 years.

The first volume - the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles - was presented to Pope John Paul II by the president of St. John's University, the head of the abbey, and by Donald Jackson, the Welsh calligrapher who is the artistic director of the project, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in late May. (See picture of presentation at left. The calligrapher Donald Jackson is third from right in the picture.)

An 80-member delegation from St. John's took a ten-day trip to Rome to witness the presentation, including Frank and Kathy Ziegler of Paynesville and their son, Frank Jr.

Reproducing the Bible
ColorMax, a ten-year-old business in Paynesville, owned by Cal and Terry Sixta, has been digitally photographing, archiving, and reproducing the St. John's Bible for the past two years.

The Bible presented to the pope is the first full-size, limited-edition replica created by ColorMax.

An illumination from the handwritten Bible This first volume - containing the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles - is 132 pages long. The St. John's Bible, and this replica version, has 17" by 24" pages. While the original Bible is written on vellum, the digital replica is on a German paper that is similar in weight and feel to calf skin.

This brightly-colored illumination is in the prologue to the Gospel of John.

The digital archiving - and replicating - process starts by bringing the original pages, done in calligraphy by Jackson and his staff in Wales, to St. John's University in Collegeville and from there to ColorMax in Paynesville.

Digitally photographing takes 28 minutes of processing for each page. To be sure that this digital capture is sufficient for future needs, each page is photographed at nearly twice the actual size at 300 dpi.

Each raw picture file just fits on a CD, said Steve Miller of ColorMax. Working files - since each digital page takes about five hours of work, color correcting, etc. - can be two or three times as large.

A large part of ColorMax's job is just file management, said Miller. ColorMax stores these raw files at three separate locations.

Miller hopes that St. John's Bible replicas - regular-sized Bibles, art prints, etc. - will keep ColorMax busy for years to come. "Once they start to market it, we're going to be very busy," he predicted.

The replica first volume presented to the pope was the first to be bound and completed put together as a book.

When presented to the Pope John Paul II, the first volume was opened to the prologue to the Gospel of John, which includes one of the two dozen illuminations - gold-gilded depictions - in the first volume. (The St. John's Bible, when completed in seven volulumes, will include 1,100 pages and 150 illuminations.)

Miller and Cal Sixta were pleased to know that the pope's eyes reportedly lit up upon seeing their replica version of the St. John's Bible, but they still draw the greatest satisfaction by pleasing Jackson. "That is the highest praise," said Sixta, "when the artist looks at it and is happy with it."

Jackson, according to Miller, told ColorMax "that no one has ever reproduced our work so well."

"We know from working with artists that they are the hardest to please because they've put so much work and effort into it," said Miller. "To get the approval of the original artist - the creator - is probably the highest praise we could get."

ColorMax has photographed the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, which is the first volume, and the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), which is the second volume. They are in the process of photographing the third volume, the Psalms.

They view their work with the St. John's Bible as not only a job, but as a chance to be part of history.

Witnessing Bible History
Zieglers in Rome Frank and Kathy Ziegler, who have lived on Lake Koronis since 2000, got a letter from St. John's University, Frank's alma mater, this winter informing them of the trip to the Vatican to present this first volume replica of the St. John's Bible to Pope John Paul II.

The Zieglers - Frank Sr., Kathy, and Frank Jr. - visited places like Assisi during their 10-day trip to Rome in May. The family witnessed the presentation of the first replica volumne of the St. John's Bible to Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican on Wednesday, May 26.

Kathy, who had just finished reading a book about Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, immediately wanted to go. Frank, a 1962 St. John's graduate, was harder to convince, but he eventually decided that Kathy's late mother would approve of using part of their inheritance from her for the trip, since she was a German Catholic from Watkins.

The Zieglers have followed the making of the St. John's Bible and visit the exhibit at the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library whenever they visit St. John's University.

The Zieglers took their son, Frank Jr., a 2003 St. John's University grad, along on the ten-day trip as a late graduation present.

The trip - from May 19-29 - included sightseeing in Rome and the Vatican and the surrounding area. During their touring, they presented several art prints from the St. John's Bible to places they visited.

On Wednesday, May 26, the president of St. John's University, the head of the St. John's Abbey, and Jackson and his wife presented the replica version of the St. John's Bible, made by ColorMax, to Pope John Paul II. Their presentation was one of many that morning in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.

The Zieglers said being in the square with the pope was very exciting. A group of Mexicans next to them kept shouting "John Paul II - the whole world loves you" repeatedly in Spanish.

"It was fun to be part of the group and to know that it was a big deal for the school," said Frank. "It's really a unique project."

Frank said he has come 180 degrees on the St. John's Bible. When he first heard about the project he thought it probably would not be worthwhile, since he expected the book to be inaccessible to the public, locked away from view.

But the accessibility of the Bible - made possible in part by the computer wizardy by ColorMax - convinced Frank otherwise. The St. John's Bible is art, according to Frank. "I think you can appreciate it even if you aren't Christian or don't read the Bible," he said.

Seeing the St. John's Bible presented to the pope was even more special for Frank and Kathy since they knew the replica had been made in Paynesville. The couple visited ColorMax before going to Rome.

After the presentation, the principals were very excited and talkative about their experience with the pope, who did not speak during the Bible presentation. "They couldn't stop talking about it. They were so excited," said Kathy.

The Zieglers found Jackson to be very approachable, very friendly, and very low key during the trip. Frank Jr. learned the story about the Jackson's inspiration for doing the St. John's Bible. While attending a funeral at St. John's University - during an appearance at a calligraphy workshop - Jackson saw the monks using a very ordinary looking Bible, which he did not think was grand enough for such a sacred text.

When St. John's started talking with Jackson about producing a handwritten Bible, the former royal calligrapher asked them: "Do you want me to make the word of God live on a page?"

In making a contemporary Bible, Jackson wanted to use modern day impages in the artwork, like the Twin Towers, a DNA strand, and a computerized voice pattern of St. John's monk singing. He also wanted to use flora and fauna from Minnesota. So Frank Jr., who did a amphibians and reptiles survey of the St. John's campus while a student there, talked to Jackson about which frogs were native to St. John's. "He said, 'If I use frogs, I'm calling you,' " said Frank Jr.

The Zieglers reported that Jackson promised to visit them the next time he comes to Minnesota for the St. John's Bible. He knows about Lake Koronis from working with ColorMax, they said, and he wants to visit the Indian burial mounds near Lake Koronis and near the Zieglers' home.

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