Codex Gigas, known as the “Devil’s Bible”, is the world’s most comprehensive and largest medieval manuscript.
Codex gigas, known as the “devil’s bible”, is the world’s most comprehensive and largest medieval manuscript.
The name codex gigas means “giant book” in Latin. The book is 36 inches tall, 20 inches wide, approximately 9 inches thick and weighs approximately 165 pounds. Its impressive skin is made of leather and ornate metal. This extraordinary work includes the entire Latin Bible, Isidore of Seville’s “Encyclopaedia Etymologia”, Josephus’s “Antiquities of the Jews” and Cosmas of Prague’s “Chronicle of Bohemia”. it also contains numerous writings describing magical formulas, exorcism rituals, and a calendar.
The devil is in the details
The unique colors and flawless details adorning this medieval manuscript are quite astonishing. The entire text is strikingly illuminated and decorated. Colorful illustrations, delicate borders and highly stylized letters attract readers’ attention.
Codex gigas continues to surprise historians with its various aspects. Experts do not know the answer to the question of how the book was written. this is mainly due to the imbalance between the book’s extensive attention to detail and its sheer scope. that is, the overall nature of the writing is extremely consistent, with no variation in appearance or quality.
Experts think that this medieval manuscript was the work of a single scribe and was completed in a short time. however, manuscript experts claim that this is actually impossible.
Experts state that codex gigas requires more than five years of continuous writing to be completed. Realistically, this medieval manuscript must have required more than twenty-five years of work. However, the scribe’s work shows no signs of aging or change in skill or style. The masterful monotony of the creator remains a phenomenon.
The curse of the medieval manuscript
Back in the 13th century in Bohemia, a monk named Herman committed an unforgivable sin. He broke his sacred oath and was therefore sentenced to death. that is, he would be buried alive behind the walls of the monastery. Just before the last brick was placed, the monk begged for mercy. whereupon the abbot offered him a deal. He asked the monk to create a book containing all the knowledge in the world and to do it in a single night. As time passed, Monk Herman had no choice but to bargain with his soul. He gave his soul in exchange for a completed book. The next morning, the monk presented his work to the abbot and his life was spared.
In the codex gigas, the scribe’s signature is hermanus inclusus. this detail may confirm or undermine the previously mentioned medieval manuscript legend. hermanus translates as herman, the monk’s name. In Latin, the word inclusus means either punishment or voluntary isolation. This translation sheds light on another possible theory that the monk devoted his life to creating a masterpiece.
In fact, numerous details sprinkled throughout the medieval manuscript point to a possible remorse lurking in the back of the author’s mind. According to old medieval belief, it is possible to atone for sins by copying sacred texts. this belief may support the monk’s theory of atonement.
A long list of sinful confessions is also included among the pages of the manuscript, just before the description of heaven.
this text differs from the rest of codex gigas. written in capital letters. For five pages, the monk begs for forgiveness and describes each of his sins in detail. The following pages feature a full-scale painting of heaven and the devil. This particular page makes the Codex Gigas the only medieval manuscript to contain a full-page portrait of the devil. The monster is shown in an empty field, wedged between two towers.
Peering from the gap of the page, this creature is depicted with red horns and two tongues, and is wearing nothing but an ermine loincloth. It is interesting to know that the ermine was worn only by royalty, so this detail identifies the devil as the prince of darkness. This portrait in particular gave Codex Gigas another title: Satan’s Gospel.
Right next to the devil image, there is a depiction of heaven presented by many rows of white buildings. Heaven is located between two high towers. In this way, it is linked to the portrait of the devil. What makes the kingdom of heaven unsettling is the absence of any signs of life. The author has drawn heaven completely devoid of life, without any explanation.
This double-page illustration ominously depicts the nature of good and evil standing side by side. These illuminations are also the only full page illustrations in Codex Gigas.
The following pages contain articles explaining certain spells and demonic spells. These special texts are designed for exorcism rituals.
According to experts, although all the writing and artwork in Codex Gigas belong to a single person, it was common practice for authors to collaborate with more than one illustrator. Despite the author’s undeniable talent, no other works of his have been found so far.
The lost ten pages of codex gigas
Another legend that haunts Codex Gigas is known as the “curse of the Satanic Bible”. In 1477, the Benedictine monastery in Bohemia, known as the origin of medieval manuscripts, was in financial difficulty. Therefore, the monks had no choice but to sell their most valuable asset, the codex gigas. The manuscript later belonged to the Benedictine monastery in Bevnov. Shortly afterwards, the Bohemian monastery fell under the ravages of the Hussite Revolution.
the medieval manuscript remained with Bevnov until 1593; The monastery then decided to lend the book to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Unfortunately, the codex gigas never made it back to the monastery, because the emperor had developed an obsession with the manuscript. Over time, this obsession grew and his reign was affected by his paranoia. Soon the emperor’s family decided to depose him. The six years after the emperor’s death marked the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. The war ended with the Swedish army taking the emperor’s library collection, including the Codex Gigas.
In 1697, a fire broke out in the royal castle in Stockholm. Moments before the flames reached the royal library, the chief librarian ordered his men to save as many valuable artifacts as possible. The men had no choice but to start throwing books out of the windows. Many believe that ten missing pages were torn from the binding as the 165-pound medieval manuscript flew through the air. These mysterious pages remain lost to this day. Three days after the incident, a hearing was held to establish the cause of the wildfire. The chief fire watchman and two of his men were sentenced to death for not being in the correct position. However, the exact cause of the forest fire still remains a mystery.
However, there are errors in the original theory explaining the missing pages of codex gigas. Numerous archivists claim that the missing section was not simply dropped, but was instead deliberately severed. In addition, many scholars believe that the missing pages contain the rules of a Benedictine monastery in Bohemia.
Due to the considerable size of the pages in the manuscript, it is safe to say that the monastic rules could not fill the entire ten pages.
Over time, new questions and mysteries arise about this medieval manuscript. Codex Gigas, with its ancient secrets and sinister aura, refuses to give its mysterious answers. Instead, it leaves us in a constant state of wonder, presenting endless mysteries that can never be solved.