The Devil's Bible
According to legend, in the early thirteenth century in a Benedictine monastery east of Prague, the monk Hermannus was sentenced to be buried alive for breaking his monastic vows. His punishment could be cancelled if he agreed to make the most magnificent book the world had ever seen, containing all human knowledge. But he had to do it in one night.
About midnight Hermannus realized he would not be able to finish his task and asked the devil to help him. In return, the monk included in the Bible a fanciful image of the devil, which is why the book is popularly called “The Devil’s Bible.”
Codex Gigas, the largest medieval Bible in the world, is 36” (that’s three feet!) by almost 20” and weighs nearly 165 pounds. One page has a full-page illustration of the devil. On the facing page is an illustration of what heaven might look like.
The image of the devil from Codex Gigas
In addition to the Latin Bible, the book contains an encyclopedia, Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, a list of the monks in the monastery, mystical incantations for everything from curing illnesses to catching thieves, and more—a strange mix.
The book most likely was made by one scribe and probably took more than 25 years to complete. Hermannus was a recluse, and his living alone is probably how the legend of his sentenced to be buried alive—or walled up in a room—got started.
The codex belonged to various monasteries until 1594 when it was taken to Prague to become part of the collection of the emperor Rudolf. In 1648 the Swedish army stole the entire collection including the codex and took it to the Swedish Royal Library, which loaned it to the Czech National Library in 2007. You can see the entire manuscript here. The devil is on page 290r; heaven is on 289v.