The Codex Gigas is Latin for ‘The Giant Book’. This 165lb giant book is often referred to as the Devil’s Bible. The bookbinding consists of wooden boards that are covered in leather and the corners are metal guards. It is said that the book is composed of 310 leaves of vellum from donkeys and calfskin.
Initially the book had 320 pages in it, though some were removed over time. In movies and other fictional stories, the pages are said to be removed as they contained, ‘The Devil’s Prayer’.
There are 5 full texts in the Codex Gigas. The first text is the Old Testament Bible, the second is the historical works of Flavius Josephus, “The Antiquities” and “The Jewish War”. The third text is the encyclopedia by Isadore. The fourth text is a collection of medical works and the final text is, a Chronicle of Bohemia by Cosmas from Prague (1045 – 1125). There are various short texts in the book, a work on Penitence, exorcising evil spirits, and a calendar that contains a list of saints and local Bohemian persons and they days they would be commemorated. It is said there is one lost work that has been removed, “The Rule of St. Benedict, the essential guide to monastic life written in the sixth century”.
According to the legend, these texts were selected very carefully by a monk who had broken his monastic vows. His punishment was to be walled in (Immurement from Latin im- “in” and murus “wall”). This was imprisonment for life, in which the subject was enclosed in an extremely tight confinement.
The monk who wished to avoid such a punishment, promised to create the Codex Gigas in its entirety in one night. When midnight neared, he feared he would not be able to complete the book, so he prayed to Lucifer the fallen angel and asked for help to finish the book, in exchange the monk would give his soul to Lucifer. The legend states the devils picture was added to show gratitude for his assistance in creating the book.
It is believed the most important selection of texts in the book is the Bible and the others were chosen to provide information, such as the Jewish history which would be in Josephus’ texts. The universal knowledge contained in Isidore’s texts and of course medicine and the local history that is within the texts of Cosmas. Records in the Codex end in 1229, nothing further was recorded after that point.
Legend has it that this monastery was destroyed in the 15th century which is were the codex was housed. The giant book changed hands many times, from 1477 – 1593 it was kept in the library of a monastery in Broumov in the Czech Republic. In 1593 it was taken to Prague, the Capital of the Czech Republic where it took part in the collection of the Emperor Rudolf II.
The giant book now resides in a glass encasement in the basement of the Kings Library in Stockholm. The book was brought to Stockholm in the late 16th century after the Thirty Year war.