VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI earlier this month received an edition of a new, handwritten and illustrated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in the United States.

The "Wisdom Books," a limited-edition reproduction of one of the Old Testament volumes of the new, 1,150-page Bible, was presented to the pope during a private audience. He will receive the remaining six volumes of the St. John's Bible over the next four years.

British artist Donald Jackson, once scribe to Queen Elizabeth II, was also present at the audience.

Over the past 10 years, he and a team of calligraphy experts painstakingly painted every page on parchment, using goose-feather quills, ancient inks and precious metals to illustrate the original handwritten text. The book is 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide when open.

"When the pope remarked that this Bible was 'a work for eternity,' he expressed what I feel a lot of the time," the artist said. Jackson said it would take another 22 months to complete the last two volumes of the seven-volume Bible.

The $4 million project, funded by private donations, was commissioned by St. John's Abbey in Minnesota, one of the largest Benedictine monasteries in the world. The Benedictines, whose order was founded in Italy by St. Benedict around 530, have a long tradition of manuscript sharing and preservation.

The original manuscript of the new Bible is stored in special cases in a vault in the neighboring St. John's University, which is run by the order.

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a modern English translation, is the version being used for the text. Its language is gender-inclusive when referring to men and women.

While the more elaborate reproductions of the new Bible can cost more than $100,000, pocket editions are already available at $70 per volume.

(Source: By Daniela Petroff, Associated Press, Saturday, April 26, 2008)