The Middle Ages is certainly not an era devoid of mysteries and strange symbolism, but the Codex Gigas is a real puzzle for the experts of ancient writings. The book is the largest medieval manuscript, with a height of 92 centimeters, a width of 50 and a weight of 75 kilograms. Initially, the pages were 320, but 8 of these were lost, fueling a mystery that has lasted for almost a thousand years.
Literally meaning “giant book”, the Codex Gigas was created in the 13th century. The manuscript contains not only the New and Old Testaments but an assortment of other texts addressing matters of extreme practicality for the time as exorcism, grammar, a calendar, and medical works. Everything inside in only one book, handwritten by a single, anonymous monk. The author identified as most likely, was Herman the Recluse, and he would take about 20 years to finish this incredible massive work.
According to the legend, this book was written in one night, during which the monk wanted to create a manuscript of such beauty and grandeur that was to celebrate the centuries-old Benedictine monastery of Podlažice, in what was then Bohemia.
The reasons why this book is defined “Devil’s Bible” are two: the first is linked to the figure on page 290, which depicts Lucifer in all his evil devilishness, and the second is related to the graphic of the book, which seems identical in all 320 pages, a unique feature in a book that should have been written in over 20 years.
Another legend has it that the monk was condemned to be walled up alive for his sins, and that the only way to salvation would be to write the whole of human knowledge in one book in only one night. The monk wrote the book by making a pact with the devil: if he finished the manuscript, he would have sold his soul to Lucifer but he would have saved his life on this earth. In exchange for enhanced overnight productivity, all the monk had to do was paint a full-page portrait of Beelzebub in the Codex and hand over his mortal soul. Satan agreed to help the monk, who would have had earthly glory but eternal damnation.
This massive book currently resides behind glass in the basement of the King’s Library in Humlegården (“Humle” meaning “hops,” suggesting royalty grew hops there for their own beer, “gården” meaning “courtyard”), a very nice park in the elegant Stockholm neighborhood of Östermalm. The original Codex Gigas ended up in Sweden thanks to plundering. In the dying days of the Thirty Years’ War (a series of battles waged between Protestants and Catholics between 1618 and 1648), Swedes stormed Prague and stole an assortment of valuable books, including the Devil’s Bible. At the time, Queen Christina of Sweden had a habit of stealing books from other nations as war booty and using them to increase her own country’s libraries. The scholars have not yet been able to explain how this code has been written over such a long period of time without showing any change in handwriting, mood or aging by its only author.
The National Library of Sweden puts this massive undertaking into perspective:
“If the scribe worked for six hours a day and wrote six days a week this means that the manuscript could have taken about five years to complete. If the scribe was a monk he may only have been able to work for about three hours a day, and this means that the manuscript could have taken ten years to write. As the scribe may also have ruled the lines to guide the writing before he began to write (it probably took several hours to rule one leaf), this extends the period it took to complete the manuscript. The scribe also decorated the manuscript, so this all means that the manuscript probably took at least 20 years to finish, and could even have taken 30.”
For more Informations: World Digital Library, the HD Version of the Book.