The Mysterious “Devil’s Bible” and Its Dark Legend

The Mysterious “Devil’s Bible” and Its Dark Legend

The largest existing Medieval manuscript in the world weighs 165 pounds and requires two people to move it from room to room. The giant Bible resides in Stockholm, with papers housed by the National Library of Sweden. Known as the “Codex Gigas,” this large collection of Christian and other writings includes a translation that later became the Catholic Church’s official Bible. However, the Codex Gigas is best known for its mysterious origin and frightening illustration of the devil. In fact, the circumstances surrounding the writing of the book have earned it the nickname, the Devil’s Bible.

The book includes a full-color illustration of the Devil. How it got there is a mystery. Historians have traced the Devil’s Bible to a Benedictine monastery in the Czech Republic in the early 13th century. The book, which measures 36 inches tall by 20 inches wide, is almost nine inches thick and has massive leather bindings. The name “Codex Gigas” appropriately translates to “Giant Book.” The folklore surrounding the book says it was written by a rule-breaking monk who was sentenced to death by being walled alive.

The monk, desperate to avoid being walled to death, vowed to write a book that would glorify the monastery and amplify all of human knowledge. He promised to complete this task in just one night. According to legend, the monk quickly realized he would not be able to finish the book, so he offered his soul to the Devil in return for a completed manuscript. After prayer, apparently his offer was accepted. The monk allegedly appeared the following morning with the giant book, including the picture of the Devil. Some believe the monk drew the picture as a sign of gratitude, while others suggest it was drawn by Lucifer himself.

Scientists and handwriting analysts have been stumped by the book’s production. Handwriting analysts proved that the book was indeed written by just one person, and they also identified the author, “Herman the Recluse” because of his signature inside the text. When researchers tried to recreate the calligraphy of the book, they realized it would take five long years of nonstop handwriting to complete the book – and that does not include the illustrations and illuminations found on nearly every page.

The book has miniature illustrations, colored writings, blackened pages, and medieval spells. Although the book is written mainly in Latin, the author also included text in Hebrew, Greek and Cyrillic. There are ten missing pages that appear to have been removed. Many speculate that the pages were deemed too dangerous for human eyes.

The book’s tumultuous history lead some to conclude it is cursed. The monastery where it was originally found was destroyed. It was then passed between Benedictine monasteries, until it was taken by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II in 1594. In 1648 it was taken by the Swedes as plunder during the 30 Years War. It was taken to the Swedish National Library, where a fire broke out in 1697. The book survived when someone threw it from a window. It was later returned to the Library, where it has remained without incident ever since.

Remi Koene
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