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The story behind Joe Biden's giant Bible

The 127-year-old Biden family Bible will be on display when Joe Biden is sworn in as the nation's 46th president.
Collage of Biden being sworn in with his big Bible
TODAY Illustration / AP / Getty
/ Source: TODAY

Every time Joe Biden has been sworn into office since he became a senator in 1973, he has rested a hand on the same giant Bible.

The 5-inch thick Bible will make its most prominent appearance in its 127-year existence when Biden, 78, takes his oath as the nation's 46th president on Jan. 20 during the inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C.

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Joe Biden's giant family Bible, seen here at his 2009 swearing-in for his first term as vice president, will be present when he takes the oath as the nation's 46th president.Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The Bible, which is adorned with a Celtic cross on its cover, has been in Biden's family since 1893.

"It's just been a family heirloom on the Biden side of the family, and every important date is in there," he told late-night host Stephen Colbert last month. "For example, every time I've been sworn in for anything, the date has been on that and is inscribed on the Bible."

Biden's wife, Jill, will be holding the large Bible when Biden is sworn in as president.

"Have you been working out?" Colbert joked to her.

Biden was first seen with the Bible when he was sworn in as a senator in Delaware in 1973 at 30 years old, and the family heirloom has made an appearance at his subsequent swearing-in ceremonies as senator and eventually vice president.

Joe Biden takes the oath of office at a Wilmington hospital in 1973 from the U.S. Senate's secretary, Frank Valeo, with his father-in-law, Robert Hunter, and son Beau at his side after being elected as a senator in Delaware. Bettmann Archive

It was last present in 2013 when Biden was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor for a second term as vice president after President Barack Obama's reelection. Sotomayor also made history in that ceremony as the first Hispanic person to administer an inaugural oath of office.

Biden was sworn in for his first term as vice president on the family Bible, too. His late son, Beau, who died of brain cancer at 46 in 2015, also used it when he was sworn in as Delaware's attorney general in 2007.

The president-elect has often spoken about his faith, and he and his family have frequently attended Mass on historic occasions like his swearing-in as vice president. On Election Day in November, he attended Mass at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church in Greenville, Delaware, before visiting his son Beau's grave.

Last month, he attended Mass with his wife at St. Joseph on the Brandywine before visiting the graves of his first wife, Neilia Biden, and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, on the 48th anniversary of their deaths. The mother and daughter were killed in a car crash on Dec. 18, 1972, when a tractor-trailer struck their car while Neilia was taking their children to pick out a Christmas tree.

As Biden prepares to place his hand on the family Bible on the most significant day of his political career, he spoke to Colbert about the gravity of the moment.

"It's been more a sense of ... obligation than wanting to live in the White House," Biden said. "The country we've been the last four years is not who we are, and we have to get back to who we are."