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ooks have played a major role within human history, being the main and in some instances only way of recording events for future generations. Most historical books have been written to enclose and transmit knowledge to others, knowledge which was very valuable in medieval times as education was still not a priority. However, there is one book that had been written for a very specific reason and which is still making experts scratch their heads.

Codex Gigas is the name given to a manuscript that had been written by a monk from the Kingdom of Bohemia (now western part of Czechoslovakia) between 1204 and 1230. The title Codex Gigas can be translated from Latin to “Giant Book”, representing this monster. Some of you may think it took between 1204 and 1230 (26 years) to write the book, but the book was actually written only in a couple of hours.

Before getting into details about the book, here is the story behind the author who had done the impossible to save his own life.

The History of Codex Gigas

Herman the Recluse was a monk at the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice near Chrudim in the Czech Republic during the early 13th century. One day he had broken his monastic vows and for this, he was going to be walled to death, according to Christian politics at the time. He made a pact with the monastery, if he was able to write a book including all human knowledge by the next morning they would let him live. The heads of the monastery knew that such a task was simply impossible so they accepted it.

The drawing of Lucifer within an actual size replica of the Codex Gigas (Source: National Library of Sweden)

Whilst in his cell, Herman started writing the manuscript and once the clock hit noon he realized that it would be impossible to write it. As a monk he saw that the best option was to pray, but not to God, he made a special prayer that could only be heard by the fallen angel Lucifer (Satan). Herman offered his soul in exchange for Lucifer to help him write the book by the morning. Lucifer accepted and Herman, out of gratitude, painted Lucifer’s appearance on a page of the book. The next morning everyone was astonished at the massive accomplishment Herman had managed. The book originally contained around 620 pages, but within the original copy, only 310 are still intact. The rest have been lost throughout history. Herman was freed as promised and the book was left within the Podlažic monastery. This is known as a note on the first page that had been scribbled by another monk stating that it is being pledged to the monastery in Sedlec.

Image representing the note written by Podlažic monastery, showing that they have been the first owners (Source: National Library of Sweden)

That same year, the manuscript is repurchased for the Benedictine Order of Břevno Monastery. The book had been kept for almost 200 years in the archive of the monastery until 1594 when Emperor Rudolf II removed the manuscript from the archive and took it to his castle as a loan because of a financial altercation with the head of the monastery. Emperor Rudolf II was interested in occultism, collecting everything from dead animals, paintings, sculptures, and trinkets associated with the devil. His intentions were never to return the manuscript and keep it in his personal collection.

During the Thirty Year’s War (1318–1648) the manuscript was taken to Stockholm when the Swedish Army invaded Prague. The book ended up in Queen Christina’s collection and was placed in the library at Stockholm Palace. Sometime later the book was moved to Castle Tre Kronor which sadly ended up burning on the 7th of May 1697. Over 18,000 books and 1,100 manuscripts had been burned. This was one of the rarest collections, containing many original manuscripts from ancient history.

Someone managed to pick up Codex Gigas and throw it out of the burning castle. A legend says that when the book was thrown out of the castle’s window, it crushed a man to death as the book was said to weigh originally 100 kilograms, but due to the many pages that it had lost over time it also lost in weight. Today the book weighs around 75 kilograms, the average of a human.

Scholars at the Stockholm Palace Library during the 18th century (Source: National Library of Sweden)

In 1768 a new Stockholm Palace was built and it became the home for Codex Gigas. This is where the book was firstly analyzed by experts who tried to define the truth behind its tale. In 1878 the book was moved once again to a new library in Humlegården, still in Sweden. In 2007 the book was given to Prague for a historical exhibition and also to be studied. Today the book can be found in the National Library of Sweden.

Was Codex Gigas Written in one Night?

An actual size replica of the original Codex Gigas (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The book itself has a height of 36 inches (91 cm), a width of 20 inches (51 cm), and a thickness of 8.7 inches (22 cm). The book is so heavy not only because of its sheer size, but also because of the material the pages have been made from. Vellum is a type of animal hide that can be procured from donkeys. It was very much used before the 13th century to make pages for books. The amount of hiding that was used to produce Codex Gigas required the hide from 160 donkeys.

Since the 18th century, the book had been analyzed by hundreds of experts in order to test the validity of its story. There have been a handful of records representing the same story of how it had been written at the start of the 13th century. It is not only the time the book had been written given its size, but also the content within. Only one person holding all of the human knowledge at that time with precise detail is something that is not even heard of today.

Besides all this, the book also contains many magic formulas and spells as well as parts of the old testament but is told from a bit of a different perspective. As mentioned, half of the pages from the book had gone missing due within 800 years. Most of them were probably when the book was thrown out of Castle Tre Kronor in 1697.

The book in its original state with the missing pages does not contain a lot of devilish stuff for it to be called “The Devil’s Bible” apart from a conjuring spell that is supposed to summon the devil. Some historians say that some of the pages may have been ripped intentionally as they contained information that mortals should not see or know.

I have read some of the primary notes that have been made by manuscript experts who had analyzed the book over many years and the story could be very much plausible. Here are some interesting details:

The book was written by one Author

From the style of writing to the actual voice that the author portrays throughout the book, it is easy to tell that the book had only one author. Usually manuscripts, due to their size, would be written by multiple authors at the same time to speed up the process. Writing a book by hand was quite time-consuming and the penmanship was expected to be outstanding.

Perfect Penmenship

The book does not contain one single spelling or grammar mistake. You would expect that writing such a large text in a rush, the author would at least make a few mistakes, but experts have stated that the book is mistake-free. Such perfect penmanship raises suspicions of having some sort of supernatural help.

Written in one Sitting

Experts in manuscripts are able to see details that define how many sittings a book had been written. Monks at the time were very good writers and the most efficient, but even so, you would see some differences when the book is written from month to month. In the case of Codex Gigas, it can be seen that the style had been kept exactly the same throughout the book, including the writing style, size, and font which were too consistent. This means that the book had been probably written in one night.

A book of this size would take years to be written by a single author and containing a similar style for years is difficult. Experts from the National Library of Sweden put this in better perspective:

“If the scribe worked for six hours a day and wrote six days a week this means that the manuscript could have taken about five years to complete. If the scribe was a monk he may only have been able to work for about three hours a day, and this means that the manuscript could have taken ten years to write. As the scribe may also have ruled the lines to guide the writing before he began to write (it probably took several hours to rule one leaf), this extends the period it took to complete the manuscript. The scribe also decorated the manuscript, so this all means that the manuscript probably took at least 20 years to finish, and could even have taken 30.” (Quote by head of The National Library of Sweden)

If the book was in the process to be written in the time experts assume it would take, many other people would have found out about this book being written. This would mean that we would have historical accounts of the book being written in a matter of years.

All of this points towards the story of the book being written in one night with the help of Satan to be quite true. Some experts do not accept this theory, but at the moment nothing else had been discovered about the book to say otherwise.

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