Make Your Manuscript Dreams Come True!
By Jean Formo

Imagine being face to page with a variety of original one-of-a kind medieval manuscript books, perhaps even next week! Imagine turning the actual pages in person without the aid of a computer screen! Such books live right here in Minnesota, and they are always accessible to YOU. Your very own calligraphy study adventure requires just a little advance planning, a few emails and a bit of driving. In no time at all you can whisk yourself back to the 1400’s! 

The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library is your final destination for a personal manuscript/calligraphy self-study on the scenic campus of St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN.  My preference is a two-night stay allowing two and a half days of study. A one-night stay is also an option with a day and a half for study.  However, if you have only one day to spare, you can drive to St. John’s in the morning, have lunch on campus and spend the afternoon cruising the new HMML Gallery to see 28 original folios from the St. John’s Bible. The Gallery is open to the public from 10 am. - 4 pm. on weekdays, and on Saturday, noon - 4 pm.  Advance reservations are not needed for the Gallery unless you take all your relatives with you. A group visit or tour is okay for a bus-load, but there will not be the time to really dig into anything if you have personal study goals. I always prefer the “dig” to the tour!



This is the plan if you wish to spend MORE than one day at HMML with specific study goals in mind. When I get the yen for the “dig” I email or call Tim Ternes,  Director of the St. John’s Bible Project at HMML to reserve my desired study dates and a personal study space.  Your preferred dates sometimes need to be adjusted depending on what is happening at HMML. Tim can coordinate any adjustment with you.  I usually begin this whole process about 4 months ahead, and I often choose summer dates. The campus is beautiful then and I can leave my winter coat at home! 

Once the study dates are confirmed by Tim, I am free to reserve my lodging on or near campus. As a visiting “scholar” (that would be YOU too!) I can rest easy in the comfortable Abbey Guesthouse, just a stone’s throw from HMML and the Alcuin Library. A nutritious breakfast is included in the very reasonable nightly rate. I submit my Abbey Guesthouse reservations at   The Guestmaster, Br. David, emails me to confirm my desired dates or to suggest alternative dates. And HMML and the Abbey Guesthouse are open year round to accommodate scholars. Occasionally during summer months there may be a few campus dorm rooms available, sans breakfast. Hotel/motels are always available in nearby St. Cloud.



After my dates are in place for a personal study space and lodging, I need to decide what I want to study at HMML. I visit the HMML website at to explore some possibilities including a range of actual manuscript books, manuscript pages on microfilm, or perhaps some facsimile manuscript books.  I might want to see holdings in the Arca Artium collection. It contains ancient books and pieces of art. Calligraphers will definitely want to see The Minnesota Manuscript Initiative, a collection previously owned by The Colleagues of Calligraphy which includes a large selection of framed 20th century contemporary calligraphy.  The MMI is also the home of a huge body of original work, and roughs by famed English calligrapher/teacher, Irene Wellington, who was Donald Jackson’s teacher for a time. Seeing the Wellington portion of the MMI is a must for any calligrapher. You are allowed to carefully handle all of it!

Knowing exactly what you want to see and RESERVING it well in advance of your arrival is necessary since the retrieval of such items takes some time for HMML staff/personnel. The things you have requested will be sitting on your study desk when you arrive!  When you are heading home after your great manuscript adventure, the same staff person will faithfully gather up everything you studied, count it and return it to its permanent living space at HMML, ready for the next scholar. Study at HMML is free of charge, and the staff works diligently to make sure that the experience is productive for the visiting scholar. Though not required, I like to make a financial “gratitude” gift to HMML at the end of my stay as a small sign of my own commitment to the preservation of the written word.

My past study experiences at HMML have been very inspiring, so much so that I have arranged for another study visit for summer of 2018. About a month before my visit, I will complete my to-do list with an email to Tim Ternes, reserving specific HMML holdings, including a revisit to Irene Wellington’s work along with some medieval manuscript books that contain batarde variations in the scripts.

I heartily encourage Colleagues members to take advantage of the wealth of resources we have at HMML.  People travel great distances from all over the world to study there, while we have only to jump in our cars!  ANYONE can arrange for this kind of study at HMML. YOU can do it. I can do it. You do not have to be a robed, degreed academic. You are not required to have a letter of introduction from the director of a prestigious educational institution. You are the one who can arrange the whole thing – by yourself. Think of creating a HMML study opportunity together with another calligraphy friend. Drive up together and get to know some ancient vellum, first hand!  Yes….pun intended.


Jean Formo