One of the many joys of working for Saint John’s is meeting fascinating people at various University functions. Ten years ago this month, I met Sister Wendy Beckett, a truly exceptional woman best known for her BBC documentaries on the history of art.
On January 30, 2006, Sister Wendy was our special guest at a Saint John’s event at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The occasion was the private opening of The Saint John’s Bible exhibition, Illuminating the Word; and that evening Abbot John Klassen and Brother Dietrich Reinhart honored her with the Colman Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society.
In her acceptance remarks, Sister Wendy spoke glowingly about the Benedictines, about Saint John’s, and about The Saint John’s Bible. “This book is a master work, a treasure for humanity,” she proclaimed.
She went on to make a bold prediction: “I can see in the future pilgrims coming to Saint John’s (I hope Father Colman is preparing for them, and the Abbey had better set up places where they can spend the night), coming on their knees, to look at this achievement, this holy work, that both shows the glory of the Bible and the glory of humanity. It is a glory that God has enabled his dear Benedictines to bring about.”
I had the privilege of escorting Sister Wendy from the museum later that evening. When I assisted her into the taxi she thanked me for my help and she gave me a kiss. It was a tender moment. Since that night, she has become my faithful pen pal. One of her postcards — a photo of an Ascension crucifix — is displayed above my office desk, and each year she sends me a lovely Christmas card. Her latest, a beautiful card from the Royal Academy of Arts, is a watercolor called Helleborus & Holly. It reads: “Dear Rob, you will be looking forward to the great Epiphany when this arrives.”
Yesterday I was reminded of Sister Wendy’s prophecy of pilgrims coming to Saint John’s because I had the opportunity to tour the construction site for the future home of The Saint John’s Bible. Sister Wendy’s vision was coming to light right before my very eyes.
The Saint John’s Bible Gallery will be located in Alcuin Library in the auditorium that Johnnies remember as AV1. This space will be exceptional: sacred, contemplative, secure, temperature-controlled, elegant and spacious.
The creation of a space to display The Saint John’s Bible is a long-held dream. From the beginning we envisioned a gallery that would house this holy work, the Word of God, the Word made flesh.
Thanks to the generosity of a handful of benefactors, this dream will soon become reality. The Saint John’s Bible Gallery is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2017. To date, we have raised approximately 60% of the funds necessary for the project, and we are confident that the balance will be forthcoming. That being said, naturally we welcome additional prayers and support!
I’m eagerly looking forward to informing Sister Wendy that the construction of The Saint John’s Bible Gallery is underway. Maybe she will send me another notecard. Who knows, she may even blow me a kiss.