The Codex Gigas also known as The Devil’s Bible, once considered the eighth wonder of the world. The book weighs a hundred and sixty-five pounds. One of the mysteries of the Codex Gigas legend is who wrote it.
Legend has it the codex was created by a monk who sold his soul to the devil.
Illustration of the devil, Folio 290 recto.
The Codex Gigas (English: Giant Book) is the largest extant medieval manuscript in the world. It is also known as the Devil’s Bible because of a large illustration of the devil on the inside and the legend surrounding its creation. It is thought to have been created in the early 13th century in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in Bohemia (modern Czech Republic). It contains the Vulgate Bible as well as many historical documents all written in Latin. During the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, the entire collection was taken by the Swedish army as plunder, and now it is preserved at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm, though it is not normally on display
Genesis in Codex Gigas
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Many would say that it is impossible that one man could have written the complete text alone. Yet, recently an investigation team of scholars, sponsored by National Geographic, findings support the story that the Codex is the work of one man.
During the study, of the manuscript’s text, investigators noted that the book uses only one type of ink; which was made from crushed insect nests. The style and font of the calligraphy is consistent throughout, leading the investigators to believe that the manuscript is the work of one scribe rather than many. The text’s lettering is believed to be self-taught, because of the lack of sophistication. The team also felt that the scribe must have been gifted, even though he was an amateur; because of the devil’s portrait. The experts estimate that “The Devil’s Bible” would have taken a minimum of 25-30 years to complete.
The pages are allegedly made from the skins of 160 donkeys. According to the Codex legend, this disturbingly beautiful text sprang from a pact made between a doomed monk, and the devil.
The manuscript includes illuminations in red, blue, yellow, green and gold. Capital letters are elaborately illuminated, frequently across the entire page. The codex has a unified look as the nature of the writing is unchanged throughout, showing no signs of age, disease or mood on the part of the scribe. This may have led to the belief that the whole book was written in a very short time (see Legend), but scientists are starting to believe and research the theory that it took over 20 years to complete.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Folio 290 recto, otherwise empty, includes a unique picture of the devil, about 50 cm tall. Several pages before this are written on a blackening parchment and have a very gloomy character, somewhat different from the rest of the codex. The reason for the different coloring is that when parchment is exposed to light it “tans”, as parchment is made from animal skins, so over the centuries the pages that were exposed will have a darker color to them. Directly opposite the devil is a full picture of the kingdom of heaven, juxtaposing the “good versus evil,” in contrast with the picture of the devil.
According to one version of a legend that is already recorded in the Middle Ages the scribe was a monk who broke his monastic vows and was sentenced to be walled up alive. In order to forbear this harsh penalty he promised to create in one single night a book to glorify the monastery forever, including all human knowledge. Near midnight he became sure that he could not complete this task alone, so he made a special prayer, not addressed to God but to the fallen angel Lucifer, asking him to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul. The devil completed the manuscript and the monk added the devil’s picture out of gratitude for his aid. In tests to recreate the work, it is estimated that reproducing only the calligraphy, without the illustrations or embellishments, would have taken 5 years of non-stop writing.