Did you ever wonder what the Devil really looks like? If the legend is to believed, an image in this 800-year-old book is a portrait painted from life, maybe even a self-portrait by Beelzebub himself.
The giant book was created in a Benedictine Monastery in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in the early 13th Century. At three feet tall and 165 pounds, it is the largest illuminated manuscript known. (Codex gigas means ‘giant book.’) The covers are wood. The 310 pages are made of vellum, or calfskin. They are so large, a single calf would provide enough skin for only two pages. Scholars say the handwriting indicates the entire book was the work of one solitary scribe.
The book includes the entire Latin Bible as well as many other popular writings of the time, also in Latin, including further religious writings, reference books, and medical texts. It seems to be an early encyclopedia—an attempt to collect all the world’s knowledge between two covers.
But the most remarkable thing about the book is the full-page image of Lucifer, the Fallen Angel, at page 290. That page gives the book its nickname and its sinister reputation. The Devil is shown crouching, as if ready to jump out of the page. He has a green face, small red eyes, red horns, red claws, and two red tongues.
The legend of the Devil’s Bible goes back as far as the book itself. According to that legend, there was a monk who broke his vows and was sentenced to be walled up alive. To avoid this horrible death, he promised to create, in a single night, a book containing all human knowledge. The book would bring glory to his monastery. But as midnight approached, the monk realized he could not complete the task.
Indeed, modern research has shown it would take five years of non-stop writing just to create the text, not even including the numerous illustrations.
The monk succeeded by enlisting the help of the Devil, offering his soul in exchange. The story says the monk included the Devil’s portrait as thanks. Other versions of the legend say it was Devil himself who painted the portrait.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons; Additional photo: National Library of Sweden