As probably many people know, the art of letterpress has deep religious roots. Gutenberg is known not only for the invention of letterpress, but for his famous project, a Bible (less well known, he likely also printed indulgences as a way of funding the Bible project). Coming onto the scene in Europe just on the cusp of the Protestant Reformation, the printing of books, pamphlets, and other documents on both sides of the Reformation helped further drive letterpress printing into the mainstream. Many early printing houses were established to print religious books, including, in England, the Book of Common Prayer .
My spouse is an Episcopal Priest. In the months before the Pandemic, among many other things, she had been leading a small group of teens (including our eldest) through a series of classes in preparation for confirmation. They had their last in-person class on March 15, and then the world shut down. They wrapped up the classes on line, but it was unclear when we would ever manage to have the confirmation happen. Our bishop is in the process of retiring. You can’t really lay hands on anyone over zoom. Infection rates in Wisconsin have not been great.
Well, we finally managed to do it. Outdoors, just the bishop and the confirmands, all masked and distanced. Families watched from their cars, the rest of the congregation watched from zoom (I was also running tech for the audio and video for all that, which was an accomplishment in itself). We wanted to make this as special as we could for these kids–several of whom many people in the congregation have known for most of their lives. Lots of folks wrote cards, my wife pulled together somewhat whimsical gift bags on a Holy Spirit theme–sparklers, party blowers (only for use in your own bubble) bubbles, windproof matches.
And I decided to print them all something. We had the standard Episcopal Church confirmation certificates which, while not great, were OK to my design sensibilities, so I decided to print a “mini poster” style print of the text of the confirmation blessing for each confirmand. “Defend, O Lord, your servant N. with your heavenly grace, that they may continue yours forever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until they come to your everlasting kingdom.”
The core of this prayer, to me, is the “More and More.” The first time I ever heard it, I was in the Diocese of North Carolina when Michael Curry was Bishop there. He would really draw out that first “more” and then drop a little extra emphasis on the second more, and now that is always how I hear it in my head. So that is how I had to print it, too—the first “more” in an expanded face with extra letterspacing, the second “more” big and solid, and a nice catchword “and” to round out the block.
Next in emphasis–and the theological heart of the prayer, I think, is the opening line, “Defend, O Lord,” and “daily increase in your Holy Spirit,” so these went in a nice chunky typeface. The rest of the prayer I set in a smaller, thinner face, to fit in the remaining spaces.
I settled on colors for this print pretty quick: red and black are very traditional religious printing colors going back to Gutenberg (and before, to the monks and scribes who carefully hand copied out texts before printing was widespread), and I feel a little gold ink is great for adding a special quality to a print–and also is something you can’t really do on your inkjet printer! These three colors look great together, and also look great on off-white paper, so that was settled.
I put “More and more” in gold, as the center of the piece, along with a nice big AMEN at the bottom, replacing the big AMEN the congregation would normally shout if we were able to all gather in person. And finally, each confirmand’s name in gold, in the same big typeface as the AMEN, since they too say amen to this prayer. The “Defend” and “daily increase” lines went in red to make them pop, and because red is associated with the Holy Spirit in the Episcopal church. The lighter text in black to balance out the page.
Finally I added some ornaments, symbols of the Holy Spirit: Some flames to bracket the AMEN, calling to mind he tongues of fire at Pentecost, made with some pointer ornaments, and a tiny bird in gold in between the words “Holy” and “Spirit.”
I printed these on my Adana Horizontal Quarto press, which was perfect for this small run that needed careful registration. The HQ is a lovely little press that I haven’t used much yet, but I really enjoyed working with it on this project. I don’t have its inking mechanism functioning yet (and I am told its inking is not great), so it’s not great for long print runs but it is well engineered and easy to use, and has the advantages of a flatbed press, while not being as tricky for registration as my much bigger Poco #0. I look forward to doing more with this press, including plans in the works for an expanded series of certificates and presentation gifts for Baptism, Confirmation, and other sacramental occasions. A few extra of these are available in the shop.