Saint John’s University Announces Formation of Expanded Museum and Manuscript Library; Mellon Found

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January 17, 2005

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – Saint John’s University announces the formation of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML), combining a number of the University’s major collections of manuscripts, rare books, art and The Saint John’s Bible.  The collections and programs brought together in HMML share an emphasis on preserving intellectual and artistic traditions formative of religious culture, and fostering knowledge and research of these traditions among a variety of audiences.  This development extends the mission of the former Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, founded in 1965 to collect and archive microfilmed copies of manuscripts held in monasteries and libraries throughout the world; the manuscript collection now holds more than 90,000 manuscripts totaling almost 30 million pages.  

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation award of $545,000 supports assessing, cataloguing, and developing digital assets of the HMML collections, which include nearly 5,000 works of art and 9,500 rare books as well as the entire manuscript collection.  The grant of the Mellon Foundation is especially important at a time when digital access to significant collections held by libraries and museums around the world is becoming an indispensable vehicle in the transmission of human knowledge. 

“This is a great moment for Saint John’s University and Abbey,” said Brother Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, President of Saint John’s University.  “When the first Benedictine monks arrived in Minnesota in 1856 they brought with them a trunk of books that became not only the nucleus of our special collections but also the inspiration for all of our projects in the book arts.  We have been a leading resource for scholarly research in manuscripts for nearly 40 years.  Now expanded to encompass an extraordinary art collection and The Saint John’s Bible -- the first handwritten, illuminated Bible to be commissioned in over 500 years – the new HMML fulfills a mission our forebears could only dream of.”

Saint John’s University Vice President for Programs in Religion and Culture, Father Columba Stewart, OSB, is the Executive Director of HMML.  Stewart, a scholar of Early Christianity and Eastern Christian Monasticism, has spearheaded HMML’s initiatives in digital preservation of Christian manuscripts in the Middle East.  He explains the vision for the new museum and library:  “The unique focus of our collections sets HMML apart and makes us pre-eminent in our field.  The core of the collection has been manuscripts, both original documents and the highest quality microfilm and digital photographs, and the manuscript collection is growing in substantial ways today as we continue to undertake major digital efforts in the Middle East.” Stewart explained, “Whether manuscript, printed book, or work of art, each piece in the collection reflects the way humans imagine and communicate what is sacred to them.  The collection ranges from rare books, to original lithographs by Picasso and Chagall on religious subjects, to abstract works meant to inspire spiritual reflection, to a new illuminated Bible for the modern era.  The Saint John’s Bible is a fresh imagining of the sacred text and will last much longer than most other human-made objects on earth.  Here we think in terms of centuries and invite our visitors to do the same.”

The Saint John’s Bible was commissioned by the Abbey and University in 1999 and will be completed in 2007.  The 1,100-page, handwritten and illuminated manuscript created by a team of scribes led by Donald Jackson, chief scribe to the Crown Office of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, will find a permanent home at HMML.

The manuscript library already possesses the world’s largest archive of photographs of complete manuscripts from Europe, Ethiopia, and the Middle East as well as a 25,000 volume reference library.  The initiative joins to it Arca Artium, the collection given by Frank Kacmarcik (d. 2004), a long-time affiliate of Saint John’s Abbey, consisting of nearly 5,000 rare books; 5,000 works of art; 4,000 sound recordings; and a 30,000 volume reference library focused on typography, calligraphy, book arts, church architecture and related subjects.  The gift is a cornerstone for HMML.  The collection becomes a companion to the Abbey’s own collection of religious, secular, and folk art acquired or commissioned since the founding of the Abbey in 1856.  A number of Latin, Ethiopian, and Arabic manuscripts and early printed books are among the 4,500 volumes in the Rare Book Collection that makes up the balance of the newly combined collections.

“Bringing together all of these collections in HMML,” Stewart observes, “is a profoundly Benedictine undertaking.  For 1,500 years we have been committed to glorifying God by creating, caring for, and preserving books, art and architecture of enduring quality and beauty.”

Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, home of The Saint John’s Bible, is dedicated to the preservation of and access to art, rare books, and manuscripts focused on how humans imagine the sacred.  HMML is located on the Saint John’s University campus, 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis on I-94.  HMML, can be found at www.hmml.org, or through the Saint John’s University website at www.csbsju.edu.