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Bible masterpiece finds home in Austin

Bible masterpiece finds home in Austin
Don Hodapp, right, and his long-time friend Dave Elrod look over one of the volumes of the St. John's Bible that he and his wife, Dorothy, donated to the Austin Public Library.
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One of only 299 Heritage Editions of The St. John’s Bible is on display at the Austin Public Library .

The seven-volume edition is a gift from the Don and Dorothy Hodapp family to the library and to the people of Austin. It was presented Sunday night at a private reception attended by more than 150 people. The Hodapps lived in Austin for 37 years before Don retired from Hormel Foods Corp.

They live in the Twin Cities.

The first two volumes of the seven-volume set are on display today. They will be on permanent display and will be available for special study and use.

The Rev. Eric Hollas, a Benedictine monk and member of the faculty of St. John’s University, told the audience of 150 that, to his knowledge, this was the first distribution of the Bible to a community library in the nation. Hollas is the spokesperson for the project, which was commissioned by the university and brought to fruition over a period of 14 years by a team led by Donald Jackson, master calligrapher to Queen Elizabeth II of England.


Materials and technique

The St. John’s Bible is the only handwritten Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago. Started in 1999, the work was finished this year. Each letter has been drawn on vellum and the books include 160 illuminations, the use of gold and silver leaf.

"We use gold and silver to represent the divine presence," said Jim Triggs, executive director of the Heritage program. The Bible is divided into seven volumes, each 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide. It was produced at a cost of $4 million.

Creators used a mixture of techniques from goose and swan quills, gold and platinum leaf and hand-ground pigments. Computer planning, however, was used in the layout and line breaks for the text.

The Heritage edition is a full-size fine art reproduction of the original manuscript.

Lessons learned

Hollas said many lessons were learned during the 14-year effort to create the bible, that the work had a great impact on the workers, especially on Jackson. "He was growing with each volume."

"As a priest," he said, "I thought that speaking the word was the only way, but I learned that art, architecture and music are important, too, to lift the spirit and the imagination."


"This is the story of human life," he said. "Go home and choose a favorite passage from your Bible and carefully write it out. When you write it, you wash your soul with it, and you will never see it the same way again."

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