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History of the Codex Gigas

It is unclear exactly how the medieval manuscript came about. But we know that it was written in the Kingdom of Bohemia – now the western part of Czechia – sometime between 1204 and 1230.

A page in the Codex Gigas.

The obscure note on the first page relates the fact that the first known owner of the manuscript was Podlažice Monastery.

A pawned monastic treasure

Thanks to a note on the first page, we know that Podlažice Monastery was the first known owner of the Codex Gigas. However, it is unlikely that the manuscript was produced there. The monastery was far too small and impoverished to undertake such a project.

The Codex Gigas was seen as one of the wonders of the world at that time.

The note says that in 1295 the monks of Podlažice pledged the Codex Gigas to a monastery located in Sedlec, in what is now Czechia. The note also says that the manuscript was repurchased in the same year for the Benedictine Order of Břevno Monastery. The Codex Gigas was seen as one of the wonders of the world at that time.

A collector's item fit for an emperor

The manuscript became a sought-after collector's item over time. In 1594, Emperor Rudolf II removed the Codex Gigas to his castle “on loan”. He presumably had no intention of returning it. Rudolf II collected everything from living and dead animals to paintings, sculptures and curiosities. The Devil's portrait piqued his interest in occultism.

A painting of a man with fancy clothes.

Oil painting of Rudolf II. The painting was captured as spoils together with the Codex Gigas. Source: Skokloster Castle

Swedish spoils

The manuscript remained in Prague until the time of its abduction by the Swedish army during the Thirty Years' War. It was then taken to Stockholm along with many other precious items. The Codex Gigas ended up in Queen Christina’s collections and was placed in the library at Stockholm Palace.

On New Year's Day 1878, the manuscript was transferred to the newly-built National Library in Stockholm, where it has been kept to this day.

A black and white picture of a man showing the Codex Gigas.

Postcard from 1929.

With the Devil's help?

A legend concerning the origin of the Codex Gigas relates that a lone scribe wrote the entire work over the course of a single night. When the scribe realised that the task was beyond his powers, he asked the Devil for help. The legend has absolutely no basis in reality. However, it does testify to the fact that the size of the Devil's Bible made such an impression that people accounted for its origins with reference to the supernatural.

A legend concerning the origin of the Codex Gigas relates that a lone scribe wrote the entire work over the course of a single night.
When Queen Christina abdicated the throne and went to Rome in 1654, she brought along a large number of manuscripts and books – but not the Codex Gigas.

Historical timeline

It is unclear exactly when and how the medieval manuscript comes about. It is written in the Kingdom of Bohemia – now the western part of Czechia.

A huge book seen from the side.
Codex Gigas
Utsmyckning
Djävulen i Codex Gigas
Drottning Kristina
Slottsbranden 1697
KB i Stockholms slott
KB i Humlegården svartvit
Codex Gigas
Skattkammaren
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