The Codex Gigas
By Sara Fawley
The Codex Gigas (which translates from Latin to Giant Book) is the largest known manuscript in the world. It measures approximately 1 metre (3 feet 3/8 inch) in length and takes two people to lift. It took more than 160 animal skins to make. This manuscript also known as ‘The Devil’s Bible’ , due to a full page illustration of the Devil contained in it’s pages, is also one of the strangest works in history. It was written in Latin in the 13th century AD and while it’s exact origin is unknown there is a note in the manuscript that states it was pawned in the monestary at Sedlec by it owners, the monks of Podlazice. According to experts it would take one person working 24 hours a day 5 years to recreate everything in the Codex, excluding the illustrations. So realistically it would have taken whoever wrote it about 20 years to complete. The strange thing is that the writing is completely consistent all the way through from start to finish. It does not change at all as one would think would happen over such an extended periord of years.
So what is it that makes the Codex Gigas so strange? It is a strange compilation of works by different authors.It begins with the Old Testament of the Bible which is followed by ‘The Antiquities’ and ‘The Jewish War’, two historical works by Flavius Josephus. Josephus lived in the first century AD. Next is the ‘Encyclopedia Etymologiae’ by Isidore of Seville who lived in the 6th century AD. Following this is a collection of medical works from various authors including Hippocrates and Theophilus. After this is the New Testament of the Bible. The last of the long works contained in the book is a ‘Chronicle Of Bohemia’ by Cosmas from Prague who lived in the 12th century.
There also some short texts as well as illustrations in the book. The first short text is a work on pentinence which is followed by an illustration of the Heavenly City. Following the portrait of the Devil is a work on exorcising evil spirits. The last short text is a Celendar which contains the names and dates on which saints and local Behmian persons were commemorated. There is also one lost work, ‘The Rule of St Benedict’, a 6th century guide to monastic life, which was on pages that were cut out of the book.
There is a legend behind the book which says it was created in one day by a monk who was sentenced to death.The legend states that the monk completed the manuscript in one night with the help of the Devil. The origin of the legend is unknown. Another legend states that it brings illness and disaster to any who possess it. Since it has been in the National Libray of Stockholm for centuries I think we can dismiss this particular legend.
The Codex was pawned at the monastery at Sedlec in 1295, by the monks of Podlazice. It then found it’s way to the monasery of Brevnov ne Prague. All of these monasteries were in Bohemia which is now part of the Czech Republic. In 1594 Rudolf II took the Codex Gigas to his castle in Prague where it remained until it was taken by the army of Sweden during the Thirty Years War. The book along with many other treasures were entered into the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden and placed in the royal library at the castle in Stockholm. In 1877 the book was taken to the newly built National Libray of Sweden in Stockholm where it remains today.
So who wrote the Codex Gigas and to what purpose? Although the who will probably never be known there is a reasonable theory on the why.The Codex Gigas is thought to be a compilation of things important to Bohemia. The Bible is the most important book to Christianity. The other texts were thought to have been carefully chosen to accomany it because together they provided information about all of the important things, Jewish History, universal knowledge, medicine and local history.