The Codex Gigas

Legend attributes the Codex Gigas, the “Big Book” (Sometimes also called the “Devil’s Bible”), to one solitary and doomed monk, sentenced to death by entombment for some unnamed, unspeakable blasphemy. Pleading with his inquisitors for some chance to demonstrate his  repentance, he claimed that by a work of faith he would scribe in one night the largest bible ever to have existed. Intrigued, but confident, his inquisitors acquiesced; he could have his one night, and his sentence would be fulfilled should morning arrive and his task remain incomplete.

Working frantically into the night, the monk, it is said, seeing that he was running out of time made a deal with the devil, the devil depicted in the Codex Gigas’ inner pages. He was thus able to complete his task, though not his repentance. Yet when morning came and his inquisitors saw what the monk had scribed they saw that it was a work of evil, and had his sentence carried out.

That is the legend of the Codex Gigas. Recent scholarship does point to one lone author, not a blasphemer entombed for his sins, but a religious recluse, possibly Herman the Recluse, who dedicated many years of his life to the work sometime in the 13th century. Sometime after it was created, it was taken to a chapel in Sedlec, now in the Czech Republic, where it remained until shortly before the black death tore through the area in the 14th century. Sedlec would later become famous for is Ossuary, decorated with the bones of some 40,000 to 70,000 people who had died in and around the area.

The Codex was eventually taken to the court of Rudolph II (1552-1612), that intriguing patron of all things occult in the 16th century. Eventually the Holy Roman Emperor was deposed by his family and political adversaries. During the subsequent conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in the 17th century, the Codex Gigas was eventually captured by Swedish soldiers and taken to the court of yet another eccentric European monarch, this time Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), raised as a boy, patron of the arts, catholic ruler of a protestant country who abdicated her throne to move to Rome. Surviving fire and war, Sweden is where the Devil’s Bible has remained to the present day.

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