Devil’s Bible (cue ominous music)

The Codex Gigas, also known as the “Devil’s Bible,” is certainly one of the most unique texts ever created.  The name, “Codex Gigas,” (giant codex) is fitting, as the size of the text is the first thing you would notice.  It is 1 meter long and weighs over 160 lbs.  It is composed of 310 leaves of vellum (parchment made of calf skin), allegedly made from 160 calves.  

To clarify, this is not actually the Devil’s Bible, for all you literal thinkers.  It is a medieval document that contains the entire Latin Bible, except for Acts and Revelation, and a compilation of five other texts including: medical works, history, documented exorcisms, and supposed magical formulas.

Legend says that the codex was written by a monk who broke his monastic vows and made a pact with the devil to complete the work; thus the name, “Devil’s Bible.”  As the story goes, he wrote the codex, in its entirety, in one day.  Quite a feat considering National Geographic has concluded that it would take one person, working day and night, five years to recreate the book by hand.  This is excluding the illustrations.  They also determined, after close examination, that the manuscript appears to have been written by one individual, as handwriting analysis and its incredible uniformity point to this conclusion.

The illustrations are another focal point of the codex.  On one page, an illustration of the devil and on the opposing page, the kingdom of heaven.  This juxtaposition is meant to be symbolic in its placement (good vs. evil).

There is also a supposed curse surrounding the codex, as a few of the places it has been housed over the centuries were either destroyed or consumed by fire.

The Codex Gigas has been examined and studied for centuries.  It is quite beautiful in its painstaking detail and complexity.  It is full of color, skilled penmanship, and artistic embellishments.

It currently resides in the National Museum of Sweden.
Devil Portrait, 290r

 Illustration of the devil from the Codex Gigas

To hear about the Codex Gigas in more detail, check out the link to the podcast by the ladies at Stuff You Missed in History Class below.

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