Decorated Initials

The beginning of each text and the principal divisions of each text has a large initial, and these range from the elaborately decorated to plain. In addition, those texts and their divisions with prologues also have initials and some of these were also decorated. It is clear that the size and type of all these initials was carefully planned in advance.

The largest and most elaborate initials occur at the beginning of the Biblical books with the exception of the initials to the second and subsequent Pauline Epistles which have plain blue initials. There is only one other elaborately decorated initial and that is for Book 1 of the chronicle by Cosmas of Prague. These elaborate initials are discussed elsewhere (see Decoration).

The next most elaborate initials are one of two kinds. The first are arabesque initials, with letters in one colour and foliate decoration, usually within the counter spaces, in a second. The second are pen flourished initials, with letters in one colour and pen-made decoration, especially following the contours of a letter, in a second. Arabesque initials are common in Romanesque manuscripts, but their use in the Codex Gigas is a conservative feature. Pen flourished initials begin to appear widely in the second half of the twelfth century, and their use became widespread in the thirteenth and later centuries. Those in the Codex Gigas are primitive, and sometimes include motifs and elements of the arabesque initials.

Eleven of the initials in Isidore, Etymologiae, are arabesque ones, with the letters always in blue and the foliate decoration in red (ff. 201v, 204r, 205v, 207r, 208r, 209v, 211r, 213r, 216v, 224v and 225v). The twelfth initial is pen flourished, again with the letter blue and red decoration (f. 214v).

Seven of the initials to the names of the months in the Calendar are arabesque ones, also with the letters blue and the foliate decoration in red (ff. 306v, 307r, 307v, 309r, 310r, 310v and 311r), and these are very like the arabesque initials in the Isidore. The other five are pen flourished initials with blue letters and red decoration (ff. 305v, 306r, 308r, 308v and 309v).

There are a few other arabesque and pen flourished initials in the Codex Gigas used to mark the beginning of some prologues and passages within books of the Bible (ff. 23v, 25v, 29r, 37r, 44r, 45v and 278r). (The foliate forms in these are particularly close to the foliate forms in the full page illustration of the Heavenly City, see the first, fourth and fifth registers on f. 289v.) There are also three pen flourished initials at the beginning of the prefatory texts to the work by Cosmas of Prague, each of these yellow edged in red and with red decoration (f. 294r). Some of these initials were made with two tones of red (light and dark).









flourished initial, 309v

Pen flourished initial, 309v

Plain Initials to Biblical Texts

The last text of the New Testament, the Pauline Epistles, has an elaborate opening initial to the first letter (f. 278r, to Romans), but the second and subsequent letters have large pen-drawn plain blue initials.

Prologues to the Biblical Books

The Prologues to the first books of the Old Testament are written in red underlined in yellow. (Note that some of the books in the Old Testament do not have prologues.) The initial is usually red (a few of the initials to the prologues are arabesques, see ff. 37r and 45v), and the first line is usually in red rustic capitals. The incipits follow the prologues, and these are usually in 2-line red pen-drawn capitals. After the initial for the text there are 2-line ink pen-drawn capitals.

This pattern changes at Psalms. There is now an incipit before the prologues (not the books) usually in 2-line black pen-drawn capitals. (The one for Psalms is in red.) This is followed by the prologues in red (as before), then the initials for the books followed by red (rather than black) 2-line pen-drawn letters, usually not touched with yellow. The initials to the prologues to Psalms, Proverbs, Sirach and Chronicles are green (ff. 81r, 87v, 93r and 98r). 

The Prologues to the books of the New Testament are also written in red, sometimes underlined in yellow. (Note that some of the New Testament books do not have prologues.) The other elements (incipits, chapter lists and initials) vary, and the New Testament books fall into two groups. The prologues to the four gospels have incipits of 1- or 2-line pen-drawn red capitals, followed by an opening plain red initial. These are followed by chapter lists in red text-script underlined in yellow. Two of the gospels (Matthew and Mark) then have incipits in 2-line pen-drawn red capitals with an opening initial in green, but two other gospels do not have such an incipit (Luke and John). Next comes the opening initial to the text followed by 2-line pen drawn red capitals, these always occupying a complete page. Acts, Catholic Epistles and Revelations have a red incipit to the prologue, but no chapter lists, and the prologues are followed immediately by the opening initial to the text, followed in turn by 2-line pen-drawn red capitals.
The second group comprises the Pauline Epistles. The prologues have green initials, and the second and subsequent have an incipit of 2-line pen-drawn ink capital letters. Another difference to the first group is that the initials to the second and subsequent epistles have plain blue initials, followed, as in the first group, with 2-line pen-drawn red capital letters. (The first initial is elaborately decorated.)

It is clear from all this that there was not a standard pattern of treating the openings of the Biblical books, but the variety in the treatment of the different elements has a consistency that suggests planning and forethought.

The non-Biblical Texts

There is a consistency to the treatment of the openings of the non-Biblical books, but each text is treated slightly differently. The two works by Josephus (ff. 118r-200v) have prologues in red text script underlined in yellow and the initials to the books are plain and red but for the opening initial to Book 1 of the Antiquities (f. 118v) which was not executed. The incipits are 2-line pen-drawn ink capitals, and following the initials are one line of 2-line red pen-drawn capital letters usually touched yellow.

The work by Isidore (ff. 201r-239r) has a prologue in red text script underlined in yellow with green initials, and the initials to all of the books are arabesques. The incipits are 1-line pen-drawn ink capitals, and following the initials are 1-line red pen-drawn capital letters, usually touched yellow.

The medical works (ff. 240r-252r) have an incipit of 1-line red pen-drawn capital letters touched yellow, followed by an initial of yellow outlined in red (f. 240r), followed in turn by 1-line ink pen-drawn capital letters. Subsequently different works are not distinguished by large initials, the divisions being marked only by titles in red text script.

The Chronicle by Cosmas of Prague (ff. 294r-304r) has prologues to the three books in red text script underlined yellow. The three initials to the prologues to Book 1 are yellow outlined in red (f. 294r), the initial to the prologue to Book 2 is red (f. 297r), and the initial to the prologue to Book 3 is green outlined in red (f. 300v). Incipits are in 2-line red pen-drawn capital letters touched yellow. The first initial for Book 1 is elaborated decorated (f. 294r), but the initials to the other two books are plain red (ff. 297r and 300v), but each initial is followed by 2-line ink pen-drawn capitals touched yellow.

The Calendar + Necrology (ff. 305v-311r) is arranged conventionally, with one month per page. The initials for each month are decorated (seven arabesques and five pen flourished). The KL (for Kalendae) at the head of each page are in two tones of red, all with modest decorative features. The Calendar entries are in pen-drawn capital letters. Most names are in ink with the first letter in red, but special entries are in red with the first letter in green. The Necrology entries are quite small, written in Carolingian minuscule in brown ink around and in between the Calendar names.

Minor Initials

The principal texts in the Codex Gigas are usually subdivided with plain pen-drawn initials, usually red, but sometimes green. These are always set outside the area used for text, and this is a conservative feature for the early thirteenth century. In the Old Testament as far as the end of Kings IV (ff. 2r-80v) every tenth initial is touched with yellow (each of these divisions are also numbered), with the exception of the end of Judges, and all of Hosea and Amos. (Hosea contains nineteen divisions and Amos only twelve.) This feature reappears in the first of the two works by Josephus, the Antiquities, in Book 15 (f. 164v) and continues to the end of the History of the Jews (f. 200v). However, in the medical texts (ff. 240r-252r) every initial is touched yellow, but in the Chronicle of Cosmas (ff. 294r-304r) every tenth initial is touched.
It is notable that the initials in the Bible (Old and New Testaments), the two works of Josephus, and the Chronicle of Cosmas appear to be larger and thicker than those in the Isidore and medical texts, and this feature is so consistent that it must have been deliberate.

Miscellaneous decoration

There are two texts in the Codex Gigas that have decorative features, and there are a few elements elsewhere that need to have attention drawn to them here.

Many of the pages in the quire containing the Confessional text and Conjurations (quire xxxvii, ff. 286v-293r) were prepared with panels of colour, two panels on each page and each panel occupying the area of the page usually written in. The colour was carefully applied thinly after the pages had been ruled, with each panel defined by the lines ruled to guide the writing. The panels are always purple, and the text was written over the purple in coloured uncials. However, this basic plan differs in its details, as each panel was framed with a thin line of one of two colours and two colours were used to write the text.

The first page of the quire contains the end of the New Testament (f. 286r). The next two pages, which face each other (ff. 286v and 287r) have panels framed in yellow with the Confessional text written in red, important letters in yellow. The next two facing pages (ff. 287v and 288r) have red frames, yellow text and red initials. This alternation of colours then continues, although one of next two facing pages (f. 289r) has no text. The next pair of pages has the Heavenly City on the verso and the Devil portrait on the recto (ff. 289v and 290r). Following these the next pair of pages has yellow frames, with text on the verso in red with yellow initials and a little more than one column of red text on the recto (ff. 290v and 291r). The next two pairs of facing pages have coloured panels but no text, the first pair framed in red and the second framed in yellow (ff. 291v-293r). The last page of the quire (f. 293v) was not coloured and is completely blank. The coloured panels with their coloured writing are unusual in Romanesque manuscripts.

All of the pages containing the Calendar + Necrology (ff. 305v-311r, the first seven leaves of quire xl) have vertical strips of colour at the fore-edges, a broad strip of green flanked by two narrow strips of red. This is also an unusual decorative feature to find in a Romanesque manuscript.

Finally, there is a well made diagram (arbor consanguinitatis) in the Isidore text, drawn in ink and coloured yellow (216v), probably taken over from the exemplar, and a charter of Emperor Henry dated 1086, its text copied in the work by Cosmas of Prague, has its decorative monogram attesting the charter carefully copied in ink (f. 299v).






The Codex Gigas was written and decorated by one scribe and, generally speaking, the production details are more or less consistent. However, there are some features that are different in each of the texts, and some texts that share features not found in others. The most important of these is the use of the most elaborate initials in the Bible (Old and New Testaments), but for the second and subsequent Pauline Epistles, and one to the opening book of the important local text by Cosmas of Prague. The next most elaborate initials are arabesques that appear at the beginning of every book of the work by Isidore. Plain initials mark the important divisions of the two works by Josephus and the second and third books of the work by Cosmas. The minor divisions in the texts were marked by initials that were thick and heavy in the Bible, the Josephus texts and the Cosmas text, and a little thinner in the work by Isidore and the collection of medical texts.

The Calendar + Necrology was treated in a more or less conventional manner. Although the pages look very rich in the Codex Gigas, parallels can be found in Calendars made all over Europe. The most peculiar part of the manuscript is the Confessional text and Exorcisms written in capital letters on coloured panels.