Codex Gigas, or The Devil’s Bible. The Heavenly City (289 v.) and the Devil (290 r) ()
Codex gigas been called the world’s most evil book: a medieval Bible emblazoned with a massive image of the devil. According to legend, the Codex Gigas was written by a monk who had promised to complete the bible in a single night or face execution (). Such work, some say, could only have been done with the help of Satan himself. It sounds dubious, but some say the Codex was written by a single hand and, at 620 pages, would have taken five years of non-stop writing; none of the changes in handwriting are associated with age.
It’s estimated that the book was completed between 1223 and 1230 at a Benedictine monastery in Podlažice, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) (). It didn’t stay there for long; the monastery fell on hard times and was forced to pawn the book to a monastery in Brevnov. A note in the manuscript states that it was pawned in the monastery at Sedlec in 1295
From there, the Codex moved to Broumov, after the monks at Brevnov were forced to flee from the Hussite Wars in 1420 ().
King Rudolf II ()
In 1594, The Devil’s Bible was brought to Prague from the Broumov monastery, where it had been kept since the year 1420. King Rudolph II (1576–1612) asked to borrow The Devil’s Bible. He promised the monks that when he was finished with the book, he would return it. Which he of course never did (). Rudolf was primarily interested in the arts and sciences of his time ( ). His art collection is legendary and was the greatest of its time. Emperor Rudolph II generously supported the arts, his interest in the sciences was hardly less.
Despite being the Holy Roman Emperor (or The Mad Alchemist as he was affectionately known), Rudolf’s collection of mathematicians, alchemists, artists, philosophers and astronomers―among them the greatest and most subversive minds of the time rivaled Queen Elizabeth I’s court in prestige and innovation ().
Driven to understand the deepest secrets of nature and the riddle of existence, Rudolf invited to his court an endless stream of genius―Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, German mathematician Johannes Kepler, English magus John Dee, Francis Bacon, and mannerist painter Giuseppe Archimboldo among many others (). Prague became the artistic and scientific center of the known world―an island of intellectual tolerance between Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam.
In July 1648, during the final clashes of the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedish army looted the city of Prague and a Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in the modern Czech Republic (then called Bohemia) (). Among the treasures they stole and brought with them when they returned home was a book called Codex Gigas. Not only is Codex Gigas famous for being the largest medieval book in the world, but because of its contents, it is also known as The Devil’s Bible.
After that, it was kept in the Royal Library in Stockholm, where in 1697 a massive fire displaced it for a time (). The head librarian later estimated that 3/4 of the books there were destroyed. To save the books, people started tossing them out of the castle’s windows, including the 165-pound Codex Gigas. According to vicar Johann Erichsons, the massive book landed on a person outside and injured them, probably grievously ( ).
It’s estimated that the 300+ pages required the skins of 160 animals, which some speculate came from goats, calves, donkeys, or perhaps a mixture of all three (). The Codex is bound with wood plates that are covered in leather, with brass fittings installed to keep the pages together ( ). While the cover is by no means light, the biggest contributors to the book’s weight are the pages themselves. Rather than paper, the pages are made of fine vellum, which is traditionally created using calfskin ( ).
Illuminated initial at the start of one of the books of the bible ()
Weighing in at 164 pounds, it takes at least two people to lift it, measuring approximately 1 metre in length. When opened, the codex is three feet tall by a little over three feet wide (). The Devil’s Bible contains 310 pages made from vellum from 160 donkeys. The ink is also made from crushed insect nests, and it is highly unlikely one scribe would use different inks ( ). It was written in Latin during the 13th century AD; in addition, it contains Hebrew, Greek, and Slavic alphabets Cyrillicand Glagolitic) (KB: ).
End of Book of Maccabees and start of Josephus, with author portrait ().
According to a report byseveral years ago, handwriting analysis by palaeographer Michael Gullick at the National Library of Sweden indicated that one scribe did compose the entire manuscript.Those who have studied the manuscript agree that it is the work of one author Herman the Recluse ( ), and note that from beginning to end there is a very unusual consistency that do not reflect the mental and emotional changes Herman would have expressed in small variations of the calligraphy over the 30 years experts believe it took him to write it. A signature in the text – ‘hermann inclusis‘ – points to the fact there was likely to have only been one author ( ). The truth is probably almost as unbelievable.
It was the practice of some monks to be voluntarily incarcerated in isolation to pay penance. These monks, called recluses, were locked up by their bishop who placed a holy seal upon their cells (). Herman the Recluse more than likely produced the Codex in this very environment of isolation which prevented the outside world from having any effect on him allowing the unbelievable consistency throughout the Codex. ( ).
Originally the codex contained somewhere between 320 and 322 pages. Interestingly, the sections that are missing from the book didn’t simply fall out, as archivists have noted that the pages were intentionally cut from the binding. This discovery has led to endless speculation about the content of the lost passages (). Scholars believe that some of the pages listed the rules for the monastery where the book was originally kept, but they also note that those rules would only have comprised two pages at most.
Some believe that the pages were destroyed because their content was deemed far too dangerous, while others think they were stolen for a secret, evil purpose (). In the work of fiction The Devil’s Prayer, the pages contain the titular prayer, and reciting it brings forth the unimaginable horrors of the apocalypse ( ).
Although some of the lost pages have been recovered, many more were destroyed or secretly coveted within private collections around the world ().
The Devil’s Bible was meant to be a work of history. That’s why it contains the Christian Bible in its entirety, The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus (37–100 C.E.), an encyclopedia by St. Isidor of Seville (560–636), and The Chronicle of Bohemia written by a Bohemian monk named Cosmas (1045–1125) (). In addition to these texts, there are a number of shorter texts included as well, e.g. on medical practices (an early version of the Ars medicinae compilation of treatises, and two books by Constantine the African), penitence, and exorcism ( ).
National Library of Sweden, Codex Gigas, or The Devil’s Bible, Book of Genesis, 2 r. ()
Based on the amount of text and the details of the illuminations, it has been estimated that it took as long as thirty years to finish the book. Experts have determined that at a writing speed of 20 seconds per line, and many hours of illustration it would have taken close to 30 years to have created the text with a single scribe (). In other words, the anonymous scribe seems to have dedicated the majority of his life to creating The Devil’s Bible.
The Devil’s Bible has been given its name because of a full-page image of Lucifer, the Fallen Angel, at page 290. That page gives the book its nickname and its sinister reputation. Portraits of the Devil were common during the Middle Ages but this particular portrait is unique (). Here, the Devil is portrayed alone on the page. The image is large—nineteen inches tall. The Devil is crouching and facing forward, as if ready to jump out of the page. He has a green face, small red eyes, red horns, red claws, and two red tongues. He is naked apart from an ermine loincloth. Ermine is worn as a sign of royalty ( ). It is believed that the Devil wears ermine in this image to demonstrate that he is the Prince of Darkness.
The note in the book “Hermannus monachus inclusus”, which translated means: “Monk Hermann immured”, was the reason for the assumption, the legend and the myth that a monk was condemned to be immured alive because of his sins (). In order to repent, and to escape the harsh punishment, he wanted to write the code in a single night. The night before his sentence would be executed, the monk decided to write his last work, an evil book written on animal skins. But when he realized that he was not up to the task, he made a Faustian deal at midnight with Lucifer to finish the book, with the devil signing the document by painting a portrait of himself on the 290th leaf ( ). Besides, the fallen angel Lucifer mocked all Christian people by cheating a full-page self-portrait between the texts. In return for the work, the monk allegedly sold his soul to the devil. It is not known where this legend started and it is suspected that it was religiously propagated.
On the opposite page of the portrait of the Devil is an image of the Heavenly City. This has been interpreted as the Heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in the Book of Revelation (). It was common in the Middle Ages to leave book spreads on display to convey a message to those who saw it. It is believed that the message intended here is to show the rewards of a God-fearing life on one page and the horrors of a sinful life on the other (
Codex Gigas, or The Devil’s Bible. The Heavenly City (289 v.) and the Devil (290 r) ().
The Codex Gigas was meant to be a work of history. That’s why it contains the complete vulgate Latin translation of the Bible, TheJewish War and Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus (37–100 C.E.), Encylopdae Etymologiae’ by Isidore of Seville (6 th century AD) and The Chronicle of Bohemia (1050 AD) written by the Bohemian monk Cosmas of Prague (1045–1125) ( ).
Opening of the Gospel of Matthew( )
The Old Testament and New Testament are separated and in an unusual order, with a number of works placed in between and after the religious texts, including Flavius Josephus’ 1st century history of the Jewish people and a history of the area of Bohemia.
Smaller texts are also included in the manuscript with the most famous ones including: a text on exorcism, magic formulas, a calendar, a picture of the Heavenly City, and a full page illustration of the Devil (). The illustration is the reason why legend says the codex was written with the devil’s help.
After the image of the devil is a page devoted to warding off evil spirits and sickness. On this page are three conjurations and two spells, likely intended as protection from the devil and not an invocation, due to their juxtaposition with the previous page (). After that comes several pages dedicated to conjurations and magic spells, which are believed to be part of an exorcism ritual ( ) Scholars suggest that these instructionals were used to banish evil from people who were suffering from sickness. Stories and legends say that the Codex Gigas brought disaster or illness on whoever possessed it during its history ( ).
Legend has it that ill fortune befalls anyone who possesses the manuscript. “A nineteenth-century collection of anecdotes tells a macabre version of Night at the Museum in which a porter at the national library where the book was housed was locked in for the night after falling asleep in the main reading room. When he woke up he saw the books moving around of their own accord and dancing. A large broken clock suddenly sprang back to life and started to chime the hours. In the morning the porter was found crouched under a table in terror and spent the rest of his days in an asylum” ().
Further removing an intentional demonic connection is an image of the Heavenly City placed before the demon and the spells ().
The lack of additional demonic content makes it seem that the image of the devil is present only as a symbol, not as an object of worship. The codex contains nothing else out of the ordinary for the time period. It is the last of a dying breed – one of the final single volume handwritten copies of the Old and New Testament created before moving to an easier to replicate (and carry) multi-volume format.
Sadly for Satan worshippers, the codex is clearly not the work of the devil – nor a devil-worshiper. The book appears to be a legitimate representation of the Latin Vulgate, with a few useful additional texts. One would assume that the legend behind the creation of the world’s largest book would be disturbing for the Pope and the Church, but this was not the case. Despite its unconvincing source, this medieval manuscript was never condemned by the Inquisition (). On the contrary, it was studied by a number of scholars.
If anything, the codex is a compendum of texts for monks living within the monastery at Podlažice . The Codex Gigas ends a fascinating insight into a world where one person sat at a desk for a lifetime of penance and thought, copying centuries of combined texts, delicately placing each letter, line, and drawing to create a massive tome.