The Codex Gigas, more commonly known as the Devil’s Bible, is a remarkable medieval manuscript not just for its size – 320 pages, each measuring three feet – but for the striking illustration of the devil it contains. Comprising the Old and New Testament, the Chronicle of Bohemia by Cosmas, exorcism texts, medical writings, and a collection of shorter works, it is a true treasure trove of knowledge.
Although it is believed to have once included the Rule of St Benedict, that section has unfortunately been lost to time. This massive book, housed in the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm, is not only the largest medieval manuscript in the world, but it is also steeped in mystery and legend, making it a must-see for any history or literature enthusiast.
“The Codex Gigas is a truly awe-inspiring manuscript. Currently housed behind glass in the King’s Library, also known as the National Library of Sweden, in Hymlegarden, this massive leather-bound book is the largest surviving European manuscript in the world. It was written by a monk in the early 13th century.
The story of how it ended up in Sweden is a fascinating one – after the Thirty Years War ended, the Swedish Army looted the city of Prague, and among the treasures they found was a book known as the Codex Gigas. Measuring 36 inches tall (3 feet), 20 inches wide, and 8.7 inches thick, the Devil’s Bible is not only impressive in size but also steeped in history and legend.”
How much did it take to complete Codex Gigas?
Based on the amount of text and the intricate details of the illumination, it is estimated that it took as long as thirty years for the anonymous scribe to complete the book. This means that the scribe, whether a monk or not, seems to have dedicated a significant portion of his life to creating this masterpiece.
If the scribe worked for six hours a day, six days a week, taking a day off, it would take him about 5 to 6 years to complete the manuscript. However, if the scribe was a monk, he would have only had 3 hours a day to work on the manuscript, which would have extended the time to finish it to around 10 years. Additionally, the manuscript was also decorated, which would have added even more time to the creation process, making it likely that it took the scribe 20 – 30 years to finish the Devil’s Bible. “
The most striking piece about the manuscript is the Devil himself, the large and terrifying portrait of the devil. The size of the devil is striking as he takes up the entirety of Hell. Large claws, red-tipped horns, a green head, small eyes with rep pupils, and two red tongues coming out from each side of its mouth.
Size of Codex Gigas
The most striking aspect of the manuscript is the large and terrifying portrait of the devil. The size of the devil is striking, taking up the entirety of the page, and he is depicted with large claws, red-tipped horns, a green head, small eyes with rep pupils, and two red tongues coming out from each side of its mouth. This portrait is believed to have been included as a tribute to the devil, who according to the legend, helped the scribe complete the book.
The Codex Gigas is not only famous for its size and the portrait of the Devil, but also for the striking image of the Heavenly City on the opposite page. During the Middle Ages, it was common for books to have spread on display to convey a message to those who saw them. It is believed that the message conveyed by the Devil’s Bible is to show the rewards of a God-fearing life on one page and the horrors of a sinful life on the other.
In 1594, the Devil’s Bible was brought to Prague from the Broumov monastery, where it had been kept since 1420. King Rudolph II requested to borrow the book from the monks and promised to return it once he was finished with it. Unfortunately, he never returned the book and it remains on display in the National Library of Sweden to this day
Made from Donkey’s Vellum
The Devil’s Bible is truly a remarkable piece of history. Weighing in at 165 pounds and containing 310 pages made from the vellum (membrane) of donkeys, it is a formidable tome. It is believed that at some point in time, 10 pages were removed from the book, as it originally contained 320 pages.
The true author of the book may never be known, but the unique portrait of the Devil has been drawing attention for over seven hundred years. The Codex Gigas is a testament to the skill and dedication of the anonymous scribe who created it and continues to fascinate and intrigue people to this day.
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