About the Codex Gigas

The Codex Gigas is a very large manuscript. It contains five long texts as well as a complete Bible. Beginning with the Old Testament, then followed by two historical works,  The Antiquities and The Jewish War, by Flavius Josephus who lived in the first century AD, then Josephus an Encyclopedia of the middle ages, by Isidore, who lived in the sixth century in Spain. Next is a collection of medical works, and then the New Testament. The final of the long works is a Chronicle of Bohemia by Cosmas from Prague.

Additionally there are some short works. The first, before the picture of the Heavenly City, is a work on penitence. Following the Devil portrait, is a work about exorcising evil spirits. Finally a Calendar, containing a list of saints and Bohemians along with the days on which they were commemorated. Removed from the book is the Rule of St Benedict, a guide to monastic life written in the sixth century.

 

Details In The Devil

This image from the restoration process shows the details in the famous illustration of the devil. This illustration is what gives the book its more sinister name “the Devil’s Bible” which is accompanied by a legend that a monk sold his soul to the Devil in order to get the book made, and then as a thank you the monk illustrated this image.

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Codex Gigas: The Legend Of The Devil’s Bible

With pages made from the skins of 160 donkeys, and each page being about the size of a movie poster the Codex Gigas, is the largest and the most notorious medieval manuscript. If legend is true the Codex Gigas’s disturbingly beautiful text sprang from a pact made between an ill-fated monk, and the Devil.

In the thirteenth century the “Devil’s Bible” was written by a Benedictine monk in what is now the Czech Republic. Latin for “Giant Book”,The Codex Gigas is unique for being the largest existing medieval text. But the supposedly unholy legend behind the Codex Gigas is what most people find extraordinary. In the early 13th century in the Benedictine monastery of Podlazice in Bohemia a single scribe who was a monk who had breached his monastic code and was sentenced to be walled up alive with no chance of escape. The monk could thing of only one way to avoid this excruciating death. He promised to transcribe a beautiful, and fantastic book to bring fame to the monastery forever. This book would include all human knowledge. The other monks agreed, but there was a condition, he would be given only a single day to complete the task. If the monk could complete the task, then he would be free to live, fail and he would be sentenced to death behind a wall.

As the monk transcribed the bible on the skins of donkeys, he used colored inks and created illustrations. He worked to completely illuminate the manuscript with decorative letters, calligraphy, and small illustrations in the margins, a style common in that era, but rarely to this degree. As it approached midnight the monk realized he could not complete this task alone. Desperate to live he traded his soul to the devil for help. As promised the devil completed the transcription of the manuscript. As thanks to the devile the monk added the devil’s picture to the work. This illustration in combination with the legend is why the Codex Gigas is known as the Devil’s Bible.

Codex Gigas is truly massive. It measures 36 inches by 20 inches making each page the size of 8 sheets of standard printer paper. It is 8 inches thick with a total of 320 pages. Some of the pages have been removed over the years. It is most likely that they contained the Benedictine secrets. On the 290th page of “The Devil’s Bible” is a full page illustration of the devil. Opposite the Devil  is an illustration of the glory of heaven. No proof of the Legend exists, and the author’s name is unknown, but the sheer size of the book makes it awe inspiring even if the legend is just a story.

Librarian handles the Codex Gigas which is nearly as large as he is.

Librarian handles the Codex Gigas which is nearly as large as he is.