Devil's Bible goes on display in Prague after three century absence

'Devil's Bible'

The largest historical book in the world is to go on show at Prague's Klementinum Gallery on Wednesday. Known as the 'Devil's Bible', it was written in what is now the Czech Republic in the early thirteenth century, and during the Middle Ages was regarded as a wonder of the world. Plundered from Prague by Swedish soldiers during the Thirty Years War, it is now to return to the city temporarily after an absence of over 350 years. Joshua Singer has more.

The book, which is almost a metre high and half a metre wide, consists entirely of parchment, and is made up of eleven sections. Not only is it the biggest, but also the oldest Czech chronicle written in Latin. Accompanying the bible on display at the exhibition will be detailed descriptions of certain chapters, and a history of the book's journey from its origins in Bohemia to its permanent home in Sweden's National Library, from where it is on loan.

Vlastimil Jezek is the director of the Czech National Library at the Klementinum:

'Devil's Bible'
"The Devil's Bible can't be seen by more than 60 people an hour, so we're selling time-allocated tickets which people can of course order over the internet or buy directly from the Klementinum gallery. For those who don't have the internet or who don't want to use this medium, it will be possible on Tuesdays and Saturdays to come to the exhibition without time allotted tickets but those who do so should expect to wait."

History and legend differ as to exactly how the bible - also known as the Codex Gigas - came into existence. Historians believe that it was completed in around 1229 in a small Benedictine monastery in Podlazice, and was the life's work of one man. Legend however, asserts that it is the work of the devil. So the story goes, a Benedictine monk faced death for breaking the code of his order. To save himself from punishment, he sold his soul to Satan in return for creating what he promised to be the biggest manuscript in the world.

Vlastimil Jezek
In modern times, the Czech Republic is only the third country to be loaned the bible. Vlastimil Jezek again:

Photo: CTK
"Before this exhibition it has been leant out twice in the last 360 years, once to a major exhibition in New York and once to Berlin, before it made its journey back to Prague. I think the fundamental grounds for this loan, are that in the first place, we have very good relations between the Czech National Library and the Swedish Royal Library. In the second place, we had great help from Czech diplomats, and finally one can't possibly ignore the contribution of Prime ministers Paroubek and Topolanek who in the course of Swedish official visits included the issue of the bible in discussions."

One ticket will allow visitors ten minutes to view the Bible, which will be on loan until January, when it will return to Sweden.