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biden inauguration

Why Biden's bible is so big

Millions of viewers on Wednesday were astonished at the size of the aging leather-bound Bible used when President Joe Biden took the oath of office, a volume substantially larger than the common pocket-sized editions of Holy Writ.

But in Biden's childhood the book would have been a somewhat more familiar sight. Biden was sworn in with a late 19th-century edition of the Douay Rheims translation of the Bible with extensive commentary by Fr. George Leo Haydock, the scion of an old recusant family who spent much of his life serving in Catholic missions in rural England.

Haydock's commentary, which is still considered among the most authoritative in the English speaking world, is among the reasons that Biden's Bible (which appears to have been in his family since 1893) is so large. Most Haydock editions, including one nearly identical to Biden's owned by this columnist, also include introductory essays, extensive illustrations, glossaries, biographies of the popes, pages for recording the dates of births, deaths, baptisms, marriages, and priestly ordinations.

Haydock editions of the Douay would remain the most common among English-speaking Catholics in both the United States and the British Empire until the 1940s, when the so-called Confraternity edition was published, removing much of the archaic syntax and Latinate vocabulary to which readers had been accustomed.