Friendship sparks illuminated Scripture workshop

Sower and the Seed image only

Sower and the Seed image onlyIt’s called “visio divina,” the ability to “see the Illuminated Word of God with eyes of faith,” according the website The process uses the Saint John’s bible, the first illuminated scripture commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey in more than 500 years and developed specifically for the 21st century.

   On Oct. 19 at Holy Trinity Church in Fulton, faithful of the Diocese of Syracuse have the opportunity to learn the foundation of visio divina at a special faith formation workshop, Strengthening Disciples with Scripture, conducted by Dr. Barbara Sutton, the assistant dean of outreach and formation at Saint John’s University in Minnesota.

    “Illuminations” refers to the pictures that illustrate scripture. In 1998, Saint John’s Abbey and University commissioned renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a hand-illuminated bible. The illuminations took 13 years to finish. For the scriptures used for illumination, the university turned to Dr. Sutton.

   “Part of what I do is to break open scripture that is considered unfamiliar territory and explain its relevance,” stated Dr. Sutton. “I came to Saint John’s School of Theology six years ago as they were in the midst of caligraphing the Saint John’s bible. “I was asked to work on the curriculum. The Saint John’s bible takes the Good News of the Gospel spoken over 2,000 years ago and makes it relevant for today.”


   Sutton points out that although the illuminations may depict images of 21st century life, the bible is still the bible. “The Saint John’s bible is still the same Good News, but by illuminating the words we hope to inspire the imagination of disciples in the 21st century on the mission of Jesus Christ.”

   The scriptures illuminated in the Saint John’s bible are not generally as well-known as the traditional stories or scripture messages people often hear at Mass, explained Sutton. “The scriptures used illuminate social justice issues and often the faces of women are illuminated,” explained Sutton.

   The idea for Sutton’s workshop this month in Fulton came from Pat Barnett, Director of Faith Formation for St. Joseph-St. Stephen the King Parish in Oswego.

   Sutton and Barnett grew up together in Mexico and were classmates at the Mexico Academy & Central School. After graduation, the women lost track of each other for several years until they reconnected again through social media. Sutton then shared her work with Barnett on visio divina and this past July, Barnett traveled to Minnesota to attend a retreat held by Sutton as part of her parish’s McDevitt evangelization grant.

   “It was a life-changing experience,” stated Barnett in regard to Sutton’s class. “We [faith formation teachers] always tell the kids and the catechists not to read along in their missal during the Gospel readings because reading and hearing the Word of the Lord are two different experiences. Visio divina is a totally different process; you get the opportunity to see The Word through the eyes of God.”

   Once she returned to Oswego, Barnett contacted the Director of the Northern Region Faith Formation, Connie Armstrong. “I walked into her office and said, ‘We have to do something about this,’” Barnett said.Armstrong agreed to invite Sutton to conduct a workshop on discipleship and scripture.

   The idea of using pictures to illuminate scripture, Armstrong explains, is an age-old method of the church. “The original purpose of stained glass in the churches was to tell the story of the Gospel to people who couldn’t read. They could look at the pictures and understand Gods word,” she said.

   “Dr. Sutton’s

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will be another great way to get people interested in the bible,” explained Barnett. “This workshop will give another venue for people to learn. We all learn different ways and for a visual learner, this workshop will be a phenomenal way to see the hand of God through the use of the illuminated Word.”

   Having viewed the original Saint John’s illuminated bible, Barnett explains that copies of the bible, such as the one she has, are almost as awe-inspiring as seeing the original. Workshop attendees will not see the original bible, but what they will see will be as close to the original pictures as technology allows.

   “The Liturgical Press developed a fancy camera that took pictures of the original pages of the bible so the copies we have are actual pictures of the illuminations,” explained Barnett. “These illuminations will draw people in, giving them the ability to experience the Saint John’s bible, maybe not exactly in the way I have, but it will still speak to them.”

   The Strengthening Disciples with Scripture workshop will be held Saturday, Oct. 19 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Holy Trinity Church, 309 Buffalo St., Fulton. The cost of the workshop is $10 and lunch will be provided. Register by emailing or


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