Codex Gigas, The Devil's Bible

Nov 15, 2021 0 comments

At the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm, there is on display a gigantic bible, 36 inches long, 20 inches wide and nearly 9 inches thick. Called Codex Gigas, or the “Giant Book”, this elaborately decorated and impressively leather bound book weighs an astounding 75 kilograms, and is the largest extant medieval illuminated manuscript in the world.

The manuscript is illuminated with colorful illustrations, including a portrait of Josephus, images representing Heaven and Earth, and various geometrical or plant-based forms. But the most striking and out-of-place of them all is that of the Devil. The devil occupies a full page of the manuscript, opposite a page the carries a depiction of the kingdom of heaven, thus juxtaposing contrasting images of Good and Evil. The devil is shown frontally, wearing a white loincloth, crouching with arms over his head. His hands and feet end with only four fingers and toes each, terminating in large red claws. Two big red horns adorn his head. Like a serpent, his tongue is forked. His head is full of dark green curly hair.

Photo: Michal Maňas/Wikimedia Commons

According to legend, the Codex was created in the 13th century by Herman the Recluse in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice near Chrudim in the Czech Republic. Handwriting analysis indicates the manuscript was the work of a single scribe. It must have taken this person close to 20 years to complete this mammoth book.

According to one version of a legend that was already recorded in the Middle Ages, the scribe was a monk who broke his monastic vows and was sentenced to be walled up alive. In order to avoid this harsh penalty he promised to create in one night a book to glorify the monastery forever, including all human knowledge. However, near midnight, the monk realized the foolishness of his vow and that it was impossible to complete this task alone. So he prayed, but not to God but to the fallen angel Lucifer, asking him to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul. The devil completed the manuscript and the monk added the devil's picture out of gratitude for his aid. The manuscript is thus also known as the Devil's Bible.

Shortly after it was written, it was pawned by the Benedictines to the Cistercian monks of the Sedlec Monastery where it remained for 70 years. The Benedictine monastery in Břevnov reclaimed the bible around the end of the 13th Century. From 1477 to 1593, it was kept in the library of a monastery in Broumov until it was taken to Prague in 1594 to form a part of the collections of the Emperor Rudolf II.

At the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648, the entire collection was taken as war booty by the Swedish army. From 1649 to 2007, the manuscript was kept in the Swedish Royal Library in Stockholm. In 1697, a fire broke out at the royal castle in Stockholm, which destroyed much of the Royal Library. In order to save the Codex Gigas, the manuscript was thrown out of a window. In 2007, after 359 years, the Codex Gigas returned to Prague on loan from Sweden until January 2008, and was on display at the Czech National Library.


More on Amusing Planet


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}