Codex Gigas: history and facts about the Devil’s Bible.

Have you ever heard about “Codex Gigas“, also known as “The Devil’s Bible“? It is an extraordinary work, one of a kind, described as spooky, bizarre and obscure. The Codex Gigas is an enormous manuscript, 1 mt high for 75kg, and contains a one of a kind match of texts. It was, of course, disputed between powerful people, stolen during wars, hidden by an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Today is conserved in the National Library in Stockholm.

One particularity of this manuscript is that it contains a full-page drawing of the Devil, thing that, considering the same period texts and books, wasn’t so common, not in that way at least. The date of completion is 1230 of the Gregorian Calendar (the calendar we use nowadays), even though the real mystery is about who made it and why.

There are many theories and legends behind it, made up to solve these questions. The first consideration is that it takes decades to complete such a work, during which the scribe would grow old and may lose its sight or coordination. Here’s the first mystery: the calligraphy of this manuscript is perfectly uniform, with no mistakes nor omissions: this suggests only one working hand. To give an explanation to this awkward thing, people invented a legend.

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Codex Gigas

The legend takes place in Podlazice, and it tells about a Benedictine monk,  Herman the Recluse. He was accused of terrible acts and sentenced to death. He was begging for absolution, promising to dedicate himself to the transcription of an enormous manuscript that would contain the Bible and the whole world’s knowledge to bring lust to that monastery. Aware of the impossibility of this task, the senior monks accepted, on one condition: the book had to be finished within the day after. So the monk wrote the whole night, non-stop. Then, at midnight, he started to realize that it was an impossible task to achieve in so little time.

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Hopeless and desperate, he asked for help to complete his job to the Devil himself, that answered that request in exchange for the monk’s soul. That’s how the Devil’s Bible was taken to completion, which would also explain the mystery around the calligraphy.


Over the centuries, it seems that this manuscript brought illness and misfortune on those who tried to take it. Luckily, it appears that the National Sweden Library is immune to this curse! There are many strange facts around this mysterious manuscript, an example is the “Tokroliga Anekdoter“(1958). This a document that tells about the story of the guardian at Stockholm library, which felt asleep in the main reading room. Once awoken, he was convinced he saw the books floating in the air, moving from a shelf to another, and an “out of order” clock suddenly started working again.

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According to the guardian, when the Codex Gigas took part in the dance, the other books began to fall everywhere. The morning after, the guardian was found under his desk, trembling and terrified. That night he lost his mental health and has been taken to the Asylum. Lately, August Strindberg, a worker at the Library, brought some friends there to read the Codex Gigas during the night. When he took the manuscript from the shelf, mysterious sulphur flames made the reading possible despite the darkness.

Codex Gigas

Excluding legends and stories, the contents of this manuscript are undoubtedly remarkable. It includes, in fact, a complete transcription of the Bible, in particular of the Vulgate version. This is a Latin translation of the ancient Greek and the Jewish variant, published by Sofronio Eusebio Girolamo during the IV century.

The Devil’s Bible doesn’t include the Acts of the Apostles nor the Book of Revelation. However, in this stunning work, we can read the “Etymologiae” by Isidoro of Seville. There are two historical texts which were written by Giuseppe Flavio, some treaty of history and etymology, spells, healing ointments and even exorcisms.

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The whole book is in Latin and includes red, blue, yellow, green and gold miniatures. Although, what makes the Devil’s Bible so unique, is the full-page picture of the Devil, at page 290. It is represented as half human and half animal, horned, with a forked tongue and turned-out toes. This kind of drawings was extremely rare during the Middle Age, even though I would say inexistent.

As mentioned, The Codex Gigas is conserved by the National Sweden Library in Stockholm. It can be consulted in digital version only, except for rare events when it’s physically exposed.

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