Return of the Devil's Bible to Prague Draws Crowds of Curious Czechs
2007-09-27 0:00


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Codex Gigas, also known as the Devil's Bible - a medieval manuscript said to have been written 800 years ago with the devil's help - has returned to Prague after an absence of 359 years.

And Czechs were eager to see it, officials said.

The priceless piece, considered the biggest medieval book, was taken from the Prague Castle by Swedish troops at the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648. It is in Prague on loan from Sweden's Royal Library in Stockholm.

It was put on display last week under high security at the Czech National Library.

Its return to Prague for the exhibition, which runs through Jan. 6, was made possible after years of negotiations between Czech and Swedish diplomats, National Library spokeswoman Katerina Novakova said.

"We expected big interest from the public," Novakova said. "Now, we are 100 per cent full."

Only 60 people an hour can enter an air-conditioned room in the library's medieval complex for a 10-minute look at the manuscript, which is inside a specially designed, unbreakable case, she said.

According to myth, a Benedictine monk promised to write the book overnight to atone for his sins. When he realized the task was impossible, he asked the devil for help. The page with the illustration of the devil is the one visitors see.

The manuscript was likely written by one monk from the Benedictine monastery in Podlazice located some 100 kilometres east of Prague sometime at the beginning of the 13th century, said Zdenek Uhlir, a specialist on medieval manuscripts at the National Library.

It contains "a sum of the Benedictine order's knowledge" of the time, including the Old and New Testament, "The War of the Jews" by the first-century historian Josephus Flavius, a list of saints, or a guideline how to determine the date of Easter, Uhlir said.

"I would estimate it took him between 10 and 12 years to write," he said about the piece, which weighs 75 kilograms. Originally, it had 640 pages, of which 624 survived in relatively good condition, he said.

The book was transported to the Czech Republic in a military plane. Authorities would not give any details about security measures adopted at the library.

It has previously been displayed in New York and Berlin.

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