The Alluring Legend of the Codex Gigas

The Alluring Legend of the Codex Gigas

Jenna Lowrance, Journalist

The Codex Gigas, or the devil’s bible, is thought to have been created in the early 13th century. The legend surrounding the book is mysterious in origin and raises more questions than it answers. The book was allegedly started by the disgraced monk known as  Herman the Recluse. Herman the Recluse was a part of the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice near Chrudim in the Czech Republic. 

The legend goes that after learning he was disgraced, the monk decided to start writing a book reporting everything he knew about life as well as the human experience, the Codex Gigas. Herman the Recluse knew that he was fatally ill and also knew that he would be unable to finish the book before his untimely demise… so he called upon the devil to help him finish writing the book. Another piece of the legend that most people don’t know about is the tidbit that Herman the Recluse wrote it (with the devil’s help) in one night.

Now for the truth behind the legend. While people know very little about this 165 lb. book, we do know that, surprisingly, it was written by one man. Scientist’s many writing analyses have proven that. The Codex Gigas translates to the Giant Book, it got the name the Devil’s Bible from the drawing of the devil on page 290.

The book never says anything that supports Satan which is one of the many reasons that people don’t believe the part of the legend where the devil was a co-author. The book contains a complete Old Testament and New Testament, a lot of medieval knowledge, and other secular tales. The Library of Sweden put out a statement on the drawing of the devil saying, “He is crouching with his arms held up (he has only four fingers and toes) and wears an ermine loin cloth. Ermine is usually associated with royalty, and its use here is to emphasize the position of the Devil as the prince of darkness… It is opposite a page with a representation of the Heavenly City and the two pages were deliberately planned to show the advantages of a good life and the disadvantages of a bad one.”

The pages that exceed the ghastly drawing contain many passages explaining magic spells, church rituals, exorcisms, and possession. This might have been thought to be helpful as many people in medieval times believed that possession by a demon was the cause of many illnesses. And don’t worry, there are extremely detailed instructions for exorcisms of both people and objects, so if you think your coffee table may be haunted, you know who to call. The book also contains an “encyclopedia” by Saint Isidore who attempted to record all of the knowledge of his time and is now known as the Patron Saint of the Internet.

This gargantuan book is made up of 320 parchment leaves (620 pages) made from vellum coming from the skins of 160 animals, most likely donkeys. Ornate case and all this book weighs in at an impressive 165 lbs and requires two adults to carry it. The picture of the devil and the picture of the City of Heaven are the only two illustrations in the book. The Codex Gigas is written entirely in Latin, and the beautiful calligraphy scrawls across every page. Some pages though are thought to have been removed, no one knows what could’ve happened to them.

There are a lot of legends and conspiracies surrounding this book and its history. Science can only prove so much. Maybe Herman the Recluse was guided by the devil’s hand… Or maybe Herman was some crazy kook that wrote a giant book to troll all of us curious people in the future. One thing is for sure though, this book is an impressive piece of history and you should definitely go see it. The Codex Gigas is on display at the National Library of Sweden, and I hope to see you there.