Alexa Codex Gigas: The Devil’s Bible

Dhaka, Friday   18 October 2019


Codex Gigas: The Devil’s Bible


 Published: 11:23 PM, 18 September 2019   Updated: 02:03 PM, 19 September 2019

Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

The earth contains all such unknown mysterious things that make us amazed whenever we come to know these. Our interest in knowing unknown and mysterious started since the ancient time.  People put much effort into unraveling all these unknown and mysterious things. The book is to bind to be strong and durable. Usually, thick paper or animal leather is used to bind the book. But have you heard of binding any book with human leather? It is true though seems too awkward to hear it.  The book is Codex Gigas, also known as The Devil’s Bible which is the largest medieval manuscript in the world, historians say.


What is Codex Gigas?

The word 'Codex Gigas' or 'Gigas Codex' means huge book. This explains the magnitude of the book. The book is as big as it looks, heavy in weight. The Devil’s Bible is famous for two features-its size and the unique representation of the Devil. The codex became known as the Codex Gigas, ‘giant book,’ due to its immensity. It is so large that it took more than 160 donkeys skins to make it and it is so heavy that two people are needed to lift it. It measures 36 inches (91 cm) tall, 20 inches (50.5 cm) wide, and almost nine inches (22.86 cm) thick. It weighs 165 lbs. (74.8 kg). The Devil’s Bible contained 320 pages and over its long history, dozens of pages have been lost, parts which were probably deliberately removed.


Why is it called The Devil’s Bible?

'Codex Gigas' is the largest and probably one of the strangest medieval manuscripts in the world. But why is it called the Devil's Bible? What's the story behind it? We need to go back to ancient period to find out the answer.

According to the many legends, it was the time of the reign of one king in the Bohemia (in Czech Republic).It was around 1300 AD. A monk in the state had broken the monastery’s rule or at least his own vows. He was brought to the king for trial. The king sentenced him to death. But the monk appealed to the king to give him one last chance. In exchange, he would compile the entire world's knowledge to make a manuscript. The king agreed to his proposal, the monk was given just one night to complete it. The monk further took a vow to conduct the task during one night only.

The clock was ticking fast, and the monk was running out of time. The manuscript could not be finished. In the end the monk called on Lucifer, the prince of Hell. The monk requested the Devil to complete the task within the night. Lucifer agreed to his proposal in returning the monk sacrificed his soul to Lucifer. In a moment Lucifer finished the manuscript.

Lucifer painted an image of himself on the 209th page of the book as leaving his signature. On the exact opposite page is a picture of the heavenly city of Jerusalem. Because of that image it became the name of the devil's Bible. It should be noted that such portrayals of the Devil were not uncommon in medieval Europe. Often pictures of the devil and his cursed disciples were used. But the devil's portrait of the manuscript was of a slightly different style. Here the devil was completely alone and naked.

The Devil was depicted as a large, monstrous figure taking up the entirety of Hell. He was drawn with large claws at the tips of outstretched arms, red-tipped horns, small red eyes, a green head and two long red tongues. He was shown crouching between two large towers and was wearing and ermine loin cloth. This material was usually used by royalty and it may be a nod to the Devil as the Prince of Darkness.


The content

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.

Codex Gigas contains a complete Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible as well as five other major texts. It begins with the Old Testament and continues with ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ by Flavius Josephus (1st century AD; ‘Encyclopedia Etymologiae ’ by Isidore of Seville (6th century AD); a collection of medical works of Hippocrates, Theophilus and others; the New Testament; and ‘The Chronicle of Bohemia’ by Cosmas of Prague (1050 AD) - the first history of Bohemia. It contains the New Testament also.

Smaller texts are also included in the manuscript, with the most famous ones including writings on exorcism, magic formulas, and a calendar with a list of saints and Bohemian people of interest and the days on which they were honored.

Like an illuminated manuscript, there are illustrations and decoration found throughout the Codex Gigas. Many of the drawings are impressive, but the most famous is the full-page drawings of the Devil and the Heavenly City, which are facing each other.

All the contents of the manuscript are handwritten, probably by a single scribe who made it his lifetime project.


Is this fantastical tale verifiable?

Through various experiments scientists have verified its history. According to the legends, the book took only one night to write. But scientists do not agree with this information.

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.

Science does not agree the story of monk and Lucifer. But by examining handwriting, scientists have confirmed that the manuscript was written by one. Red, blue, yellow and green inks were used in the Bible. These colors were also used for pictures.

Where the Codex Gigas is currently kept?

Until 1594, it was stored in a museum in the city of Srideim, in the Czech Republic. Then King II Rudolph borrowed the book from there with the promise to return it. He brought the Bible to Prague. But he forgot about his promise.

A war broke out in the Czech Republic around 1618. In July 1648, during the final clashes of the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedish army looted the city of Prague. Among the treasures they stole and brought with them when they returned home was the book Codex Gigas. 

At the end of the war in 1648, Swiss soldiers brought the largest manuscript to Stockholm. Since then the manuscript has been kept in the Swedish Royal Library in Stockholm. Only for a brief time in 2008, it was loaned to Czech National Library (in Prague) for public display.

Then it came to the notice of Swiss researchers. After discovering the thrilling history of it, the manuscript was restored to Prague in the 2007. Although the book was initially declared open to the public, the facility was recently canceled.

Things you should know about the Devil’s Bible

  1. The Devil’s Bible contains 310 pages made from vellum from 160 donkeys with 36 inches tall, 20 inches wide, and 8.7 inches thick. Originally, The Devil’s Bible contained 320 pages, but at some point in time the last ten pages were cut out and removed from the book.
  2. The identity of the scribe who created The Devil’s Bible is unknown. Scholars believe that the book is the creation of one person, most likely a monk living in Bohemia, today a part of the Czech Republic, during the first half of the thirteenth century.
  3. 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.
  4. The Devil’s Bible has been given its name because of a full-size portrait of the Devil.
  5. The entire Devil’s Bible is written in Latin.
  6. The Scribe Sold His Soul To The Devil To Complete the Book In One Night.
  7. The Devil’s Bible is nothing less than a wonder.

Despite its many unique features, the book is most famous for that portrait of the devil. Sweden’s Kungliga Biblioteket points out that the picture is distinctive for the era in several ways: it shows the devil alone, it takes up a full page, and the demon is wearing a loincloth of ermine–which typically was reserved for royalty at that time. Although the actual author of the book may never be known, the unique portrait has been drawing attention since its creation over seven hundred years ago.