The Middle Ages is certainly not a epoch free from mysteries and strange symbolisms, but the Codex Gigas represents an actual enigma for ancient scriptures experts. The book is the biggest medieval manuscript, with its 92 cm lenght (36 inches), 50 cm wide (20 inches) and a weight of 75 kg (165 lb). Initially the pages were 320, but 8 of them went lost in different episodes during its pilgrimages. The most plausible author held the name of Herman the Recluse, and had supposedly spent around 20 years to complete this colossal work, finished in 1229.

The legend wants that the book was written in just one night, during which the author had as a goal to creat a manuscript of such a beauty and greatness that it should have celebrated in the upcoming centuries the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice, back then part of Bohemia.

The reasons for which the work was renamed “The Devil’s Bible” are two: the first is linked to the picture showing at page 290, representing Lucifer in all its evilness, and the second due to the handwriting and graphics of the manuscript, which seemed completely uniform in all its 320 pages. This is a peculiarity which would have required at least 20 years time to have it completed.

The legend

To explain the incredible uniformity of the writing of the bible, the legend which was already popular in the Middle Ages, explained how the monk Herman the Recluse, condemned to be walled in for having broken the monasterial vows, promised to his superiors to write down an exceptional book in just one night, so majestic to glorify for good their monastery. Desperate for the impossible task though, he addressed a prayer not to God but to Lucifer, the fallen angel who showed up with a suggestion:

If they had finished the manuscript in the time given, the monk would have sold his soul to Satan but he would have had his life of the Earth as safe

The Devil kept his word and completed the manuscript and the monk added the image of the devil as a sign of gratitude for his hand.

Herman the Recluse was therfore spared from the extreme punishment but his soul was demned for the eternity

The Devil image

The “Folio 290 recto” included a picture of the devil of around 50 cm (20 inches). In the page in front of it there is a full-page representation of the heavenly kingdom, comparing the pictures of Good and Evil. The devil is displayed frontally, crouched with his arms risen in a dynamic posture. The only garment worn is a while kind of underwear with small red dots comma-shaped. These lines have been interpreted as the tails of the ermine’s fur, symbol of sovereignty. hands and feet end with just 4 fingers each and the nails are not human but more like long feline claws. Its enormous red horns seem like they have been drenched in blood.

The head, dark green, is covered by a hairstyle of dense curls, the eyes are tiny with broad red pupils, while his ears are huge and rounded. From the corners of its mouth there are two tongues popping out and its teeth are many and small. The representation with its tongues brings to mind the serpents, a metaphorical reference to the forked tongue present on the bible too.

The biblical content

Today the gigantic manuscript is kept at the National Library of Sweden and the researchers still struggle to understand how this codex has been written in such a long time without showing any change of mood or aging from the only author.

Inside of it there is the complete transcript of the bible, but not only. The book include a Story of Bohemia, several historical treaties, physiology and etymology, a calendar with a list of saints, the “Etymologiae” by Isidore of Seville, the list of names of the monks of the monastery of Podlažicama, two works of historical nature by Flavius Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews” and “The Jewish War”, some magic formulas and other texts like the Greek, Cyrillic and Jewish alphabets.

The pilgrimages of the Codex Gigas

The book was completed in 1229, it was registered in the Cistercian monastery of Sedlec and then purchased by the Benedictine monastery of Břevnov. For about a century, between 1477 and 1593, the codex Gigas was kept at Broumov, then it was moved to Prague in 1594, becoming part of the library of the Emperor Rudolph II.

Some years later, at the end of the 30 years’ War, the collection of Rudolph II was bought as spoils of war by the Swedish army, which took the precious manuscript to Stockholm. From the 1649 the Codex Gigas, like many other books, is in the National Library of Sweden.

Approximately 50 years later in 1697, an enormous fire devastated the royal castle and hit the library as well. Given the huge dimension of the book and its weigh, the Codex was possible to be saved only by throwing it through the window. In the operation some pages went lost but overall the book was spared.

In modern times it is conserved with the maximum care and in 2007 it has come back to Prague for a temporary leasing of some months., 359 years after its last apparition in the city.

The charm of the Devil’s Bible has remained unaltered since 8 centuries, and lead our mind to that monk, confined in a room while observing Satan in person rewriting the bible in a book with dimensions ever seen before. For us modern men this is all a legend, but for the men of the past, way more linked to the power of faith and influenced by the forces of good and evil, it was a concrete reality, perfectly understandable for a 75 kg manuscript.

To better analyse the topic of the Codex Gigas, there is a Wikipedia

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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