Behold the Codex Gigas (aka “Devil’s Bible”), the Largest Medieval Manuscript in the World

Bar­gain with the dev­il and you may wind up with a gold­en fid­dle, super­nat­ur­al gui­tar play­ing ability, or a room full of gleam­ing alchem­ized straw.

Whoops, we mis­at­trib­uted that last one. It’s actu­al­ly Rumpel­stilt­skin’s doing, but the by-morn­ing-or-else dead­line that dri­ves the Broth­ers Grimm favorite is not dis­sim­i­lar to the ulti­ma­tum posed to dis­graced medieval monk Her­mann the Recluse: pro­duce a giant book that glo­ri­fies your monastery and includes all human knowl­edge by sun­rise, or we brick you up Cask of Amon­til­la­do-style.

Why else would a book as high-mind­ed as the Codex Gigas (Latin for Giant Book) con­tain a full page glam­our por­trait of the dev­il garbed in an ermine loin­cloth and cher­ry red claws?

Per­haps it’s the 13th-cen­tu­ry equiv­a­lent of “sex sells.” What bet­ter way to keep your book out of the remain­der bin of his­to­ry than to include an eye-catch­ing glimpse of the Prince of Dark­ness? Hedge your bets by posi­tion­ing a splen­did vision of the Heav­en­ly City direct­ly oppo­site.

Notable illus­tra­tions aside, the Codex Gigas holds the dis­tinc­tion of being the largest extant medieval illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­script in the world.

Weigh­ing in at 165 lbs, this 3‑foot tall bound whale required the skins of 160 don­keys, at the rate of two pages per don­key. (Ten pages devot­ed to St. Benedict’s rules for monas­tic life were lit­er­al­ly cut from the man­u­script at an unknown date.)

It’s a lot.

A Nation­al Geo­graph­ic doc­u­men­tary con­clud­ed that the sprawl­ing man­u­script would’ve required a min­i­mum of 5 years of full-time, sin­gle-mind­ed labor. More like­ly, the work was spread out over 25 to 30 years, with var­i­ous authors con­tribut­ing to the dif­fer­ent sec­tions. In addi­tion to a com­plete Bible, the “Devil’s Bible” includes an ency­clo­pe­dia, med­ical infor­ma­tion, a cal­en­dar of saints’ days, Flav­ius Jose­phus’ his­to­ries The Jew­ish War and Jew­ish Antiq­ui­ties and some prac­ti­cal advice on exor­cis­ing evil spir­its.

The actu­al let­ter­ing does seem to come down to a sin­gle scribe with very neat hand­writ­ing. Experts at Nation­al Library of Swe­den, where the Codex Gigas has come to a rest after cen­turies of adven­tures and mis­ad­ven­tures, iden­ti­fy it as car­olin­gian minus­cule, a pop­u­lar and high­ly leg­i­ble style of medieval script. Its uni­form size would’ve required the scribe to rule each page before form­ing the let­ters, after which 100 lines a day would have been a rea­son­able goal.

You can have a look for your­self on the Library’s web­site, where the entire work is view­able in dig­i­tized form.

Cer­tain­ly the dev­il is a great place to start, though his appear­ance may strike you as a bit com­i­cal, giv­en all the fuss.

For view­ers unsure of where to start, the library has com­piled a guide to the high­lights.

You’ll also find a lot of inter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal detail: relo­ca­tions result­ing from the Hus­site Wars and the Thir­ty Years’ War, a close call with fire, and of course the atten­dant leg­ends.

Begin your explo­rations of the Codex Gigas here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beau­ti­ful, Cen­turies-Old Craft

Behold the Beau­ti­ful Pages from a Medieval Monk’s Sketch­book: A Win­dow Into How Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts Were Made (1494)

Won­der­ful­ly Weird & Inge­nious Medieval Books

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, April 23 for the third install­ment of her lit­er­ary-themed vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (16)
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  • Karl Reitmann says:

    That Mys­tery His­to­ry video is real­ly made by idiots, for idiots. The man­u­script is utter­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, no need for the moron­ic BS.

  • Paul b says:

    I am one of those ‘idiots’ whoI found Mys­tery His­to­ry video very inter­est­ing

  • Paul b says:

    I am one of those ‘idiots’ who enjoy Mys­tery His­to­ry video

  • Saul S says:

    That video was absurd. No seri­ous schol­ar would believe that a per­son wrote that entire book in a sin­gle night. It’s fine to report leg­ends, but it sounds fool­ish pre­sent­ing obvi­ous­ly false ones as fact.

  • Cody Robin says:

    I under­stand the way you think of it but its said that he was locked away sen­tenced to death and so he start­ed the book he knew we was not able to fin­ish it in one night so he offered hes soul to the dev­il to fin­ish the book for him leg­end has it the book was writ­ten by the dev­il him­self at the end of the day it’s all in your beliefs

  • Aali says:

    Con­tact me on +91 8209494963, I have the clear pho­tos of each and every page of the book from first one to the last one, My uncle worked in the same muse­um the book was kept

  • Nikki says:

    I will like to have a look please

  • Thiru says:

    If any one have full book please send me

  • Lee Blacklock says:

    The last ten pages are miss­ing from the book won­der why 🤔

  • Gira says:

    Can u please send me online ? i mean i cant con­tact you with just a phone num­ber !

  • Rose Townsend says:

    Only the seri­ous can con­tact me by tex­ting me on this num­ber
    +1442 444 1653. My par­ents most of their lives in the muse­um where the book is kept. It’s also avail­able in stocks

  • Richard Demuth says:

    From what I have read about it it orig­i­nal­ly had 320 pages, TWELVE more than the cur­rent 310. HOW would any­one NOW KNOW what they con­tained, and WHY would any­one have ripped out 12 pages of the rules of the Bene­dictines? I sus­pect from cer­tain indi­ca­tions of the Dev­il image and the city image that they had to do with ALCHEMY, and Holy Roman Emper­or Rudolph II in whose per­son­al pos­ses­sion the book last was known for his inter­est in the alchem­i­cal trans­mu­ta­tion of base met­als into gold as well as oth­er occult mat­ters. The so-called “Voyn­ich Man­u­script” was also in his pos­ses­sion and it’s indi­ca­tions are it had to do with the same thing! I won’t get into the details unless some­body asks me and I am cur­rent­ly study­ing the issue deep­er. In the mean­time I’ll let you all notice them for your­selves. BUT I will men­tion that I find the swirl­stem design at the side of the page illus­trat­ed here VERY SIG­Nif­i­cant. It is Celtic in style NOT Slav­ic, as the monks in the monastery were that pro­duced it and I think it is a chrono­gram, or sym­bol refer­ring to the length of time it took to pro­duce the book. There are FIVE swirls of FIVE loops or cir­cles each, EXCEPT for the top sixth small­er one which has four loops/circles. Since five x five is TWENTY-FIVE I would AGREE this way with the giv­en esti­mate that it took (rough­ly) TWENTY-FIVE YEARS (and four months) to pro­duce the book!!!!

  • Rachel says:

    I’d like to know what the com­mand­ments are

  • Smith says:

    Can u trans­late sen­tences of dev­ils bible in Google with their mean­ings please,please,please I will give u any­thing you need or try to explain every­thing about that book☠☠

  • David Muehlhausen says:

    Hel­lo. This book seems inter­est­ing. Does it have research val­ue? Thanks.

  • Gressa says:

    Hey if you still doing a deep study on all of this stuffs can we get in touch some­how n dis­cuss more about it cuz I’m send­ing mat­ters get­ting crit­i­cal cur­rent­ly. Drop me a text on my email or insta:@benzygomezz to get in touch … Thank you ✨

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