World's Largest Ten Commandments
Murphy, North Carolina
The World's Largest Ten Commandments arrived decades before a new wave of 10 C monuments appeared on courthouse lawns, schoolyards, and tourist attractions. These latter-day testaments are designed to be in-your-face, but the most commanding of Commandments is in a remote, not-very-well-marked religious park named The Fields of the Wood.
Why hide The World's Largest Ten Commandments under a figurative bushel? Because even though they're 300 feet wide, they were kind of an afterthought.
A.J. Tomlinson was the visionary who built them. He was working for the American Bible Society when he encountered a sect of down-on-their-luck, speaking-in-tongues Pentecostals in the mountains of southwestern North Carolina. On the morning of June 13, 1903, A.J. climbed to a hilltop and met God; when he walked back down, he had a plan for the Pentecostals. Three years later he was running their sect, which he grew into a multinational protestant denomination that he named The Church of God of Prophecy.
Work began on The Fields of the Wood on November 15, 1940. Its first monument was not the Ten Commandments, but a globe-topped obelisk marking the spot where A.J. conveyed his revelation to the Pentecostals. The second monument was the World's Largest Altar, 80 feet long, marking the spot where A.J. met God. A.J. said this was only right, since the Bible says that sacred religious sites should be marked with monuments.
Then A.J. died. He lived just long enough to see his mega-Commandments outlined on a hillside. Following his personal directions, The Church of God of Prophecy completed all of the monuments at The Fields of the Wood in 1945.
Over subsequent decades the humongous 10 Cs -- which face the hill topped by A.J.'s altar -- have become the stars of the park. Each letter is five feet high and four feet wide, set into a grassy slope extending heavenward. The view from the bottom offers 350+ daunting steps up to the top. On the opposite side of a narrow valley, paved with large parking lots for church crowds, is Prayer Mountain, which rises nearly as high as its neighbor. Its steps are flanked with monuments for the 29 Prominent Teachings of The Church of God of Prophecy, each sponsored by a different state. The teachings include condemnations of liquor (Virginia), tobacco (Washington), freemasonry (North Dakota), swearing (Arkansas), and "the divorce and remarriage evil" (Indiana). Louisiana covers it all with its monument, "Eternal Punishment for the Wicked."
For all its massiveness, the World's Largest Ten Commandments are just one of a roster of religious landmarks at The Fields of the Wood. A welcome center booth displays a map, helpfully charting everything on the 210-acre property, from a replica Golgotha to a cartoon-style Star of Bethlehem atop a metal tower. There's an Empty Tomb -- built of stone taken from the mountains -- and a baptismal pool big enough to hold a busload of sinners. Christian rock, broadcast from speakers outside the gift shop, fills the little valley.
The highest point in the park is "All Nations Cross," a prone display optimized for angelic viewing. 150 feet long, the Cross is outlined by poles flying flags of the nations where The Church of God of Prophecy is established. The Cross only has room for 86 flags even though the church now operates in 140 counties (The gift shop guidebook apologizes if your country's flag isn't flying on the day that you visit). The flags clank musically against their metal poles in the mountaintop breeze; if this were in a city it would be hailed as Sound Art.
Because the entire Fields of the Wood property was built around A.J.'s spot, no thought was given to its convenience for tourists. That makes the World's Largest Ten Commandments a wholly unexpected spectacle. You round a corner on a backcountry road and, bam, there it is. Drop some money for upkeep into one of the park's church-shaped donation boxes, then pose your kids next to V, your spouse next to VII, your Slim Jims-swiping buddy next to VIII.