Marcel Proust may have written a novel over 4,000 pages long, but there are other books out there of goliath proportions not in their length, but their size. Religious texts in particular have gotten the gargantuan book treatment, where often the spectacular labor of creating the tome is a spiritual act. Below are five of the world’s largest religious books, from Satan’s Bible to a Buddhist manuscript with the architecture of a temple.
The “Codex Gigas” at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm is, according to the library’s site, “reputed to be the biggest surviving European manuscript.” Its name means “giant book,” and its more nefarious nickname — the “Devil’s Bible” — comes from the full page portrait of the devil that lurks amidst the 13th-century text. Measuring 36 inches tall, 20 inches wide, and 8.7 inches thick with a heft of 165 pounds, its creation required an estimated 160 donkey skins. While mainly a Bible with supporting religious excerpts, it also has the odd epilepsy treatment and other cures written in its pages. And like any good book with a shadow of the occult, it has its share of unsettling legends, such as a monk walled-up alive, pacts with satan, and one nefarious night where books “surrounding the Devil’s Bible began falling over in all directions when the Giant Book itself joined in the dance.” The library has digitized each page so you can flip through the curious codex online.
Getting to the truly colossal examples, the 8,048-page King James Bible at Abilene Christian University weighs 1,094 pounds. Louis Waynai created the book in Los Angeles in the 1930s over two years and 8,700 hours, using a custom rubber stamp press. He donated it to the Texas university in 1956, where it’s still on view in the library. You can watch Waynai working away in the archive film below.
This Is Muhammad
This Is Muhammad is even more of a biblio-heavyweight at over 3,300 pounds. Standing five meters tall and created by the Mshahed International Group, the book on the achievements of the prophet and the influence of Islam debuted in 2012 in Dubai. It promptly got the Guinness World Record, knocking another watermill-housed tome in Hungary off the throne. Made by the work of 50 people and with a cover of titanium, its 429 pages open 26 feet wide.
2012 was quite the year for giant books, as in Afghanistan a Quran weighing 1,102 pounds with 218 pages was also unveiled at the Hakim Nasir Khosrow Balkhi library in Kabul. Under the craftsmanship and direction of calligrapher Mohammed Sabeer Hussani, it may be the most beautiful big book with its handwritten gold script and colorful flourishes. It took five years to create, and the skins of 21 goats. According to CBS, Hussani “wanted to show the world that despite more than 30 years of war, Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage has not been destroyed.”
What is widely proclaimed the world’s biggest book isn’t a manuscript in the traditional sense. With construction starting in 1860 under King Mindon of Burma (Myanmar), the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay has 730 leaves from the Pāli Canon, a collection of Theravadan Buddhist scriptures. Rather than one collected text, each is a tablet with around 100 lines standing over five feet, housed under its own roof in the marble pagodas encircling a central golden structure. Completed in 1868, the Kuthodaw Pagoda is still preserved by monks as a labyrinth of spiritual literature.