The Codex Gigas (or Devil´s Bible) is a large 13th-century manuscript from Bohemia, one of the historical Czech lands. Renowned for its size and its striking full-page rendition of the devil (found on page 577), it contains a number of parts: the Old and New testaments, two works of Josephus Flavius, Isidore of Seville´s Etymologies, the standard textbook for teaching medicine in the Middle Ages known as Ars medicinae (The art of medicine), the 12th-century Chronica Boëmorum (Chronicle of the Bohemians) of Cosmas of Prague, and a calendar. Of special interest are the sections that testify to the Bohemian origin of the manuscript and its eventful history. At the end of the 16th century, the Codex was incorporated into the collections of Habsburg ruler Rudolph II. During the Swedish siege of Prague at the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1648), the manuscript was taken as war booty and transferred to Stockholm.
The codex is believed to have been created by Herman the Recluse in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice near Chrudim in the Czech Republic. The monastery was destroyed during the 15th century during the Hussite Revolution. Records in the codex end in the year 1229. The codex was later pledged to the Cistercians Sedlec Monastery and then bought by the Benedictine monastery in Břevnov. From 1477 to 1593, it was kept in the library of a monastery in Broumov until it was taken to Prague in 1594 to form a part of the collections of the Emperor Rudolf II.
At the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, the entire collection was taken as war booty by the Swedish army. From 1649 to 2007, the manuscript was kept in the Swedish Royal Library in Stockholm. The site of its creation is marked by a maquette in the town museum of Chrast.
On Friday, 7 May 1697, a fierce fire broke out at the royal castle in Stockholm, and the Royal Library suffered very badly. The codex was rescued from the flames by throwing it out of a window. The codex apparently injured a bystander and some of its leaves fluttered away and they are still missing today. In September 2007, after 359 years, the Codex Gigas returned to Prague on loan from Sweden until January 2008, and was on display at the Czech National Library.
A National Geographic documentary included interviews with manuscript experts who pointed towards evidence (handwriting analysis and a credit to hermann inclusus – “herman the recluse”) that indicates the manuscript was indeed the work of just one scribe.
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