The Codex Gigas, also known as the Devil’s Bible, is one of the most fascinating and mysterious manuscripts from the medieval period. This enormous medieval manuscript has intrigued scholars, historians, and the general public for centuries, not only because of its size but also due to its contents and the legends surrounding it.
It was created in the early 13th century, around 1200-1230, in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). The codex was later kept in the library of a monastery in Břevnov and eventually moved to Sweden as war booty in the 17th century. It is currently housed in the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm.
The Codex Gigas contains the complete Vulgate Bible as well as additional texts, including historical documents, medical treatises, and encyclopedic content. Notably, it features:
The Old and New Testaments
Two works by Josephus Flavius
Isidore of Seville’s encyclopedia “Etymologiae”
A collection of medical works from Hippocrates, Theophilus, Philaretus, and Constantinus Africanus
A calendar with necrologium
Magical formulas and exorcisms
The Legend of the Devil’s Portrait
One of the most striking features of the Codex Gigas is a full-page, vivid illustration of the Devil, from which the manuscript gets its nickname “The Devil’s Bible”. This illustration has fueled various legends about the codex, the most famous being that the entire manuscript was written in a single night by a monk who had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for assistance in completing the task to avoid harsh punishment by his monastery.
The Codex Gigas is a significant cultural and historical artifact, offering insights into medieval monastic life, religious practices, and the intellectual pursuits of the time.
Its illumination, calligraphy, and decorations are key examples of medieval artistic expression.
The legends surrounding its creation and the inclusion of texts on exorcism and magic, alongside the Bible and scholarly works, contribute to its mysterious aura.
Due to its age and uniqueness, the Codex Gigas has been the subject of extensive preservation efforts. It is digitized for detailed study by scholars and accessible online for public viewing, allowing a global audience to explore its pages. The manuscript continues to be a subject of academic research, exploring its origins, history, and the broader context of medieval manuscript culture.