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Five of the World’s Largest Religious Manuscripts, from Devil’s Bible to Buddhist Labyrinth

The "largest book in the world," a visitor's register in the California Building at the 1909 Alaska Yuko Pacific Exposition, photographed by Frank H. Nowell (University of Washington Libraries, via Wikimedia)
The “largest book in the world,” a visitor’s register in the California Building at the 1909 Alaska Yuko Pacific Exposition, photographed by Frank H. Nowell (University of Washington Libraries, via Wikimedia)

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.

Codex Gigas

Half of a stereoscopic image of the Codex Gigas from 1906 (via National Library of Sweden)
Half of a stereoscopic image of the “Codex Gigas” from 1906 (via National Library of Sweden)

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.

The devil in the Codex Gigas (via National Library of Sweden)
The devil in the “Codex Gigas” (National Library of Sweden, via Flickr)

Waynai Bible

Creating the Waynai Bible in the 1950s (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)
Creating the Waynai Bible in the 1950s (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)

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

World's Largest Book in Dubai (screenshot by the author via YouTube)
‘This Is Muhammad’ (screenshot by the author via YouTube)

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.

Kabul Quran

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.”

Kuthodaw Pagoda

Kuthodaw Pagoda, and a detail of a tablet inside (photograph by Dan Lundberg, via Flickr)
Kuthodaw Pagoda, and a detail of a tablet inside (photo by Dan Lundberg, via Flickr)

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.

Kuthodaw Pagoda looking inside to some of the tablets (photograph by Jason Eppink, via Flickr)
Kuthodaw Pagoda, looking inside to some of the tablets (photo by Jason Eppink, via Flickr)
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