The Codex Gigas is housed in the Kungliga Bibliotek or the National Library of Sweden. (Featured Image and image below: Courtesy The National Library of Sweden).
According to legend, a Benedictine monk, Herman the Recluse from the Podlažice monastery, was to be walled up alive for breaking his monastic vows.In an attempt to escape this slow death, he promised to create, in a single night, a book filled with all human knowledge that would glorify the monastery forever. The monks agreed to let him try, knowing that the task would be impossible. Herman realised he would never finish the task alone. According to the legend, he made a special prayer to the fallen angel Lucifer, asking him to finish the book in exchange for his soul. Lucifer—the Devil—agreed, and completed the Codex Gigas that very night. Herman then added the Devil’s picture in the book out of gratitude for his aid.(Image courtesy The National Library of Sweden).
This book soon became known as the Devil’s Bible. The book measures ninety-two centimetres by fifty, and weighs about seventy-five kilograms. It was the largest medieval manuscript known in existence. Composed of 310 leaves of vellum allegedly made from the skins of 160 donkeys and calves, the Codex contained the entire Bible, except for the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation, which detailed the fight between good and evil, God and the Devil. The entire document was written in Latin, with additional Hebrew, Greek and Slavic alphabets.
The book has no mistakes. No other work of this author had been identified and where he was trained was unknown. Through analysing the handwriting and style, experts concurred that the Devil’s Bible was written and illustrated by the same person and that it would have taken approximately twenty years working all day every day to complete the task. Yet, experts today cannot explain how the writing and illustrations show no signs of the author ageing. It was as though it was written indeed in a very short time.
The Devil’s Bible did make it way to Sedlec and the first entry in the ledger of the book, is that it was pawned to the Cistercians of Sedlec.
It is expected to have been housed either in the original bone chapel at Kutna Hora (pictured above) or the neighbouring Cistercian monastery attached to the Church of Our Lady of Sedlec (shown below) located some 100 metres away.
Interestingly, around the time the Devil’s Bible arrived in Sedlec, according to another legend three silver rods in the shape of the devil’s trident were found by a monk in the lands of the church. The Osel Mine (pictured below) was discovered and grew soon to become the largest silver mine in the world and the town of Kutna Hora became one of the richest in all Bohemia.
Some seventy years later just before the end of the 13th Century, the Benedictines of Broumov recovered the Devil’s Bible from the Cistercians. It is recorded to have been kept in the library at Broumov from 1477 to 1593.
In 1594, it was taken to Prague where is was the most prized possession of the Rudolph II the King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia and the Archduke of Austria. It is believed, he also held the Voynich Manuscript in his collection. When King Rudolph II lost the Thirty Year war, it was taken as booty by the Swedish Army to Stockholm. Since 1649 it has been housed in the National Library of Sweden (pictured below).
On Friday, 7 May 1697, a fierce fire broke out at the royal castle in Stockholm, and the National Library suffered very badly. The codex was rescued from the flames by being thrown out of a window.
It is a well documented that the Devil’s Bible initially contained three hundred and twenty-two sheets, though today twelve sheets are missing. Some claim that when the Codex Gigas was thrown from the burning National Library of Sweden, the binding was damaged, knocking loose some pages which are still missing today.
Yet, it seems strange that the most famous books in Medieval times was never copied in more than four hundred and fifty years from the time it was allegedly written by the Devil till the fire. Not by the Cistercians, not by the Benedictines, not by the scribes in the court of the Emperor Rudolph II nor by the Swedes before the fire. For to this day, there is no record of what was written in those twelve missing pages except for rumours that it contains ‘The Devil’s Prayer’.