Codex Gigas: Is the largest surviving medieval manuscript really the “Devil’s Bible”?!

Codex Gigas_Devil's Bible

Over the centuries, the Codex Gigas has always maintained its allure of forbidden mysticism for many a historian and aficionado. After all, the humongous 165 lbs (around 75 kg) manuscript measuring 92 cm (36.2-inches) tall, 50 cm (19.7-inches) wide and 22 cm (8.6-inches) thick, is also known as the Devil’s Bible! This ominous categorization is generally believed to come from the depiction of the leering Devil on the inside. However, there is an even more sinister side to the book’s legend – with ‘whispers’ of it being produced as a result of a dire pact with the devil.

The content –

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Now of course, there is a fine line between events and hypotheses, and it is important to separate facts from fiction. So, in a way, it is crucial to shed some light into the contents of the huge Codex Gigas (an apt name, since ‘Gigas‘ pertains to giant in Latin). To that end, the compositions of the manuscript mainly entail the Latin Vulgate Bible, an alphabet with comparative studies, documentation of medical texts (with sources ranging from Hippocrates to Constantinus) and even a few spells. Interestingly, there is also a vast coverage of historical works between the testaments, with Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (of 1st century AD) and the Etymologiae encyclopedia written during late antiquity of 7th century AD.

So who exactly was the author (or authors) of this behemoth of a literary work? Well, historians are certain that it was penned during the 13th century AD, by the monks of Benedictine monastery of Podlažice, in present-day Czech Republic. One name particularly crops up in the mix, and it relates to a monk called Herman the Recluse (hermann inclusus). In any case, all the contents of the manuscript is handwritten, probably by single scribe who made it his lifetime project.

How come it is associated with the Devil?

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Well, this is where we travel to realm of lore, and it goes as this – the actual scribe of the Codex Bible had broken the monastery’s rule or at least his own vows. So he was sentenced to a slow death, by being walled up alive inside a vault. On his last day before the imminent execution, he thought of contributing to an ‘evil work’ that was to be penned on animal skins (vellum); but there was no time to complete the entire document. So, in a Faustian twist to the tale, he called upon the Devil, and made a pact with him to finish the gargantuan book in return for the monk’s soul. Lucifer obliged by painting* an image of himself on the 209th page of the book (the leering image we see in the article).

*In some accounts, it was the monk who painted the picture of the Devil as a sign of gratitude for Lucifer’s ‘help’.

Is this fantastical tale verifiable?

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In a word – no. The lack of evidences of Devil interference can be once again attributed to the content of the huge manuscript (which contains no demonic allusion or intonations, except for the image itself). In that regard, immediately after the depiction of the devil, a page showcases various spells that are most likely composed as protection wards rather than as ‘calling cards’ for the Devil. Moreover, the scribe had also included a rendering of the perceived ‘Godly Heaven’ before Lucifer’s painting – a classic ‘good versus evil’ representation that goes against the sensational direction of the aforementioned lore.

It is also interesting to know that the wealth of content in Codex Gigas serves as a serious contradiction to it being called the Devil’s work in one night. In fact, according to an estimation made by National Geographic, the entire codex could be only finished after 5 years of incessant and labor-intensive authorship. When translated to practical terms, the Codex Gigas might have been finished with over 25-30 years of data collection and inputs from various sources.

Where is the Codex Gigas currently kept?

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The entire Medieval book was taken as a loot by the Swedish Army at the end of the Thirty Years War. Since then the manuscript has been kept in the Swedish Royal Library in Stockholm, except for a brief time in 2008 when it was loaned to Czech National Library (in Prague) for public display. And, if you happen to be in the library’s vicinity, you can also catch a glimpse of the digital restoration of many of Codex Gigas’s pages – an antithetical treatment that surely conflicts with the esoteric vibe of the “Devil’s Bible”.

Via: Official Codex Gigas Site /io9 / Radio Prague

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