Friday, 30 October 2020

Dom Calmet's Vampires

Here is a suitable book for Halloween - the famous compendium on Apparitions and Vampires by the learned Benedictine scholar Dom Augustin Calmet.   If not quite a bestseller, this volume featured in  many a well-appointed eighteenth-century library.  The first edition, published in 1746, was rapidly sold out and a second edition, with considerable additions and corrections, appeared in 1749.  In 1751 de Bure produced a definitive third edition.  There was also a further fourth edition, and translations into German,  Italian and English.  The work brought to the men of the Enlightenment, for the first time in accessible format, details of the weird and wonderful world of the vampire.
It seems that in the early eighteenth century, reaching a peak in the early 1730s, the Hapsburg lands were afflicted with a veritable "epidemic of vampirism".  It is not certain whether the phenomenon was new, or simply came under bureaucratic scrutiny for the first time - probably official interest fanned existing obsessions.  Reports invariably came from border areas where Catholic Hungarians, Orthodox Serbs and Wallachians intermingled - where Austrian officials were often even unable to speak the language of the community.  One may speculate that these were marginal populations for whom recourse to traditional beliefs provided an illusion of security in unsettled times.
Official reports were published and assiduously relayed in the gazettes of  Germany and Holland.  In 1753 the Benedictine Benito Feijoo commented that, if  reports were true,  more resurrections had taken place in Central Europe since the late 17th century than in the whole of Christendom since the birth of Christ. It is often said that the "vampire craze" affected the whole of Europe, and  certainly the resonance was felt throughout the Catholic realms. However, in France, beyond a few articles in the infant periodical press, there was relatively little information before Dom Calmet's compilation.

The Project of Dom Calmet
Although almost universally castigated for his subject,  Dom Calmet, abbot of the Benedictine house of Senones in the Vosges, was a Catholic intellectual of international reputation and his work is by no means unsophisticated.  Catholic empiricists like Calmet  placed a strong emphasis on the role of historical witness in establishing the  the truths of Christianity. Thus it is not in the least surprising that Calmet felt impelled to address  the weight of testimony concerning "vampirism".

 In his Preface Calmet promises to take a middle road between credulity and the scepticism of "freethinkers and pyrrhonists".  He notes that the witnesses are numerous and detailed in their testimony; often they are Austrian officials or highly placed clerics who are worthy of belief. Many of the reports came from official inquiries and legal proceedings.  Calmet also includes testimony that he has solicited from his own network of correspondents.

 Although he examines many historical and modern parallels, Calmet sees vampirism as a new phenomenon:

In this age, a new scene presents itself to our eyes, and has done for about sixty years in Hungary, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland: they see, it is said, men who have been dead for several months, come back to earth, talk, walk, infest villages, ill use both men and beasts, suck the blood of their near relations, make them ill, and finally cause their death; so that people can only save themselves from their dangerous visits and their hauntings by exhuming them, impaling them, cutting off their heads, tearing out the heart, or burning them. These revenants are called by the name of oupires or vampires, that is to say, leeches; and such particulars are related of them, so singular, so detailed, and invested with such probable circumstances and such judicial information, that one can hardly refuse to credit the belief which is held in those countries, that these revenants come out of their tombs and produce those effects which are proclaimed of them. 
Dissertation, vol. 2. preface.  (quotes are from the 1850 translation).

 Definitions of Vampire
What is a vampire?  We learn that the problem of definition is "a heated topic in scholarly vampirology" (see Vermeir, p.344: yes, he's serious!).   Some historians, following Dom Calmet, hold that a vampire is an undead-corpse with an insatiable thirst for blood.  Others favour a looser definition. The crucial distinction is between a  ghost or apparition and an animated corpse.  The possibility of corporeal resurrection was obviously theologically charged - for Catholics especially so, since the incorruptibility of the physical body was held to be a mark of sainthood.  

1. First reports - Hungarian vampires (1693-1718)
The first significant account of vampires in French appeared in May 1793, surprisingly enough in the pages of the fashionable Mercure Galant. It is reported by Dom Calmet in Chapter 13.
The author was the former secretary to the Queen of Poland, Pierre Des Noyers (1607-1693), a scholar with a profound interest in astronomy, alchemy and the  occult arts. The article is usually credited with the first appearance of the term "vampire" (or "oupire") in French.
Des Noyer's article centres on creatures known as upierz in Polish -  a word with the same root as vampire - and strygres in Latin. They are reportedly commonly found in Hungary, Poland and western Russia.
Calmet also mentions some later Hungarian vampires discovered by an imperial infantry officer, the Count de Cabreras and reported to one of his correspondents in Brigau around 1730. but concludes that these tales were probably apocryphal, inspired by the famous cases in Medwegya (Chpt.8). 

Chapter 13, "Narration extracted from the "Mercure Galant" of 1693 and 1694, concerning ghosts"
The public memorials of the years 1693 and 1694 speak of oupires, vampires or ghosts, which are seen in Poland, and above all in Russia. They make their appearance from noon to midnight, and come and suck the blood of living men or animals in such abundance that sometimes it flows from them at the nose, and principally at the ears, and sometimes the corpse swims in its own blood oozed out in its coffin. It is said that the vampire has a sort of hunger, which makes him eat the linen which envelops him. This reviving being, or oupire, comes out of his grave, or a demon in his likeness, goes by night to embrace and hug violently his near relations or his friends, and sucks their blood so much as to weaken and attenuate them, and at last cause their death. This persecution does not stop at one single person; it extends to the last person of the family, if the course be not interrupted by cutting off the head or opening the heart of the ghost, whose corpse is found in his coffin, yielding, flexible, swollen, and rubicund, although he may have been dead some time. There proceeds from his body a great quantity of blood, which some mix up with flour to make bread of; and that bread eaten in ordinary protects them from being tormented by the spirit, which returns no more..  
The original text from the Mercure galant is reproduced in Vernier, "Notes sur le vampirisme" L’Écho du merveilleux, March 1898
Koen Vermeir,  Research Professor at the CNRS, has published a study of early vampire tracts, which considers in detail Des Noyers and his commentator,  the Paris magistrate Marigner, author of two articles in the Mercure for January and February 1694. 

Professor Vermeir notes:
  • The idea that vampires suck blood is novel.  In the earliest reports, from the mid-17th-century,   they are characterised only as hungry; they "masticate" in the grave, consuming their shrouds and even their own hands and feet. (The "Venice Vampire"  discovered in 2006  has a preventative brick in her mouth.)  In a letter of 1659, Des Noyer himself referred to the "Ukrainian illness" in which a person who was born with teeth eats his shroud and limbs. (Vermeir,  p.350).
  • Des Noyer's account places a new emphasis on the victims of vampirism and, with it,  the supernatural element of the tradition.  The vampire, or a demon in vampire shape - always a possibility in Catholic teaching  - , now ranges freely abroad.  The idea of sharing bread steeped in blood as a protective charm is clearly magical in nature.  
  • Marigner saw vampirism as a "disease of the imagination", but conceived imagination as a real force exercising a physical effect. He offered a natural explanation without calling into question the validity of the supernatural or religious realm.

2. Moravian vampires (1685-1755)
In the early years of the century official reports began to come from the Hapsburg lands. Vampire scares in Moravia fell under the jurisdiction of  the Catholic Diocese of Olmutz, where the Consistory acceded to local demands for corpses to be exhumed and burned. In 1706 the lawyer Karl Ferdinand de Scherz published a famous pamphlet on what he called Magia posthuma , considered by Calmet in Chapter 7. Schertz formalised the rules governing legal intervention, but contributed relatively little to vampire lore.  His main example concerns the proto-vampire of Blow,  an incident which in fact dated back to the 14th century.  The vampires he describes seem to represent an older tradition - they appear from the ground with great noise and cause death to both men and animals; the shepherd even engages in feisty combat with his adversaries. They are halted only by decapitation and burning.  Calmet is impressed mainly that Scherz presents his tale " in a lawyer-like way" and that some sort of legal procedure is followed before the exhumation and destruction of corpses.

3. Peter Poglojowitz (1725)

The case of Peter Poglojowitz was the most famous of all the 18th-century vampire tales.

With the treaty of Passowitz in 1718 the Austrian Empire acquired large parts of Serbia and Wallachia from the Turks,  Imperial officials began to inquire into the vampire scares.  The first report, which circulated internationally. concerned Peter Plogojowitz, a peasant from the  village of Kisilova (Kisiljevo), who in 1725 was said to have posthumously strangled nine people. Plogojowitz was a Slav; his religion was Orthodox.  The Austrian judge Fromann was obliged to acquiesce in the exhumation, staking and burning of  Plogojowitz's body in order to ensure that that villagers did not act without legal sanction.

 Dom Calmet's version, taken from the work of the German pastor Michael Ranft, reflects the original report with some accuracy. 

Chapter 46: Singular instance of a Hungarian ghost

From Michael Rauff:Gradiška

The most remarkable instance cited by Rauff is that of one Peter Plogojovitz, who had been buried ten weeks in a village of Hungary, called Kisolova. This man appeared by night to some of the inhabitants of the village while they were asleep, and grasped their throat so tightly that in four-and-twenty hours it caused their death. Nine persons, young and old, perished thus in the course of eight days.

The widow of the same Plogojovitz declared that her husband since his death had come and asked her for his shoes, which frightened her so much that she left Kisolova to retire to some other spot.

From these circumstances the inhabitants of the village determined upon disinterring the body of Plogojovitz and burning it, to deliver themselves from these visitations. They applied to the emperor's officer, who commanded in the territory of Gradiska, in Hungary, and even to the curé of the same place, for permission to exhume the body of Peter Plogojovitz. .........

The emperor's officer, who wrote this account, seeing he could hinder them neither by threats nor promises, went with the curé of Gradiska to the village of Kisolova, and having caused Peter Plogojovitz to be exhumed, they found that his body exhaled no bad smell; that he looked as when alive, except the tip of the nose; that his hair and beard had grown, and instead of his nails, which had fallen off, new ones had come; that under his upper skin, which appeared whitish, there appeared a new one, which looked healthy, and of a natural color; his feet and hands were as whole as could be desired in a living man. They remarked also in his mouth some fresh blood, which these people believed that this vampire had sucked from the men whose death he had occasioned.

The emperor's officer and the curé having diligently examined all these things, and the people who were present feeling their indignation awakened anew, and being more fully persuaded that he was the true cause of the death of their compatriots, ran directly for a sharp-pointed stake, which they thrust into his breast, whence there issued a quantity of fresh and crimson blood, and also from the nose and mouth; something also proceeded from that part of his body which decency does not allow us to mention. After this the peasants placed the body on a pile of wood and saw it reduced to ashes.

Ranft's  treatise, De masticatione mortuorum in tumulis, was one of the last to focus on the idea of the hungry dead.  Ranft  rejected the idea that vampires roamed abroad though he thought the imagination of the dead might have magical effect on the living.  Dom Calmet was simply not  prepared to consider the possibility of masticating corpses,  "The imagination of those who believe that the dead chew in their graves, with a noise similar to that made by hogs when they eat, is so ridiculous that it does not deserve to be seriously refuted" (Preface to volume 2)

The notorious freethinker the marquis d'Argens included an account of Peter Plogojowitz  in his 1738 second edition of his Lettres Juives.  This was a source widely available to a French audience and is again reproduced by Dom Calmet.  D'Argens adds a few extra details;  we learn, for instance that Plogojowitz was sixty-two when he died.  The notion that vampires appeared at meal times to  their family seems to have been  a widespread one.

This is what we read in the "Lettres Juives," new edition, 1738, Letter 137.
We have just had in this part of Hungary a scene of vampirism, which is duly attested by two officers of the tribunal of Belgrade, who went down to the places specified; and by an officer of the emperor's troops at Graditz, who was an ocular witness of the proceedings.
In the beginning of September there died in the village of Kivsilova, three leagues from Graditz an old man who was sixty-two years of age. Three days after he had been buried, he appeared in the night to his son, and asked him for something to eat; the son having given him something, he ate and disappeared. The next day the son recounted to his neighbours what had happened. That night the father did not appear; but the following night he showed himself, and asked for something to eat. They know not whether the son gave him anything or not; but the next day he was found dead in his bed. On the same day, five or six persons fell suddenly ill in the village, and died one after the other in a few days.

The officer or bailiff of the place, when informed of what had happened, sent an account of it to the tribunal of Belgrade, which dispatched to the village two of these officers and an executioner to examine into this affair. The imperial officer from whom we have this account repaired thither from Graditz, to be witness of a circumstance which he had so often heard spoken of.

They opened the graves of those who had been dead six weeks. When they came to that of the old man, they found him with his eyes open, having a fine colour, with natural respiration, nevertheless motionless as the dead; whence they concluded that he was most evidently a vampire. The executioner drove a stake into his heart; they then raised a pile and reduced the corpse to ashes. No mark of vampirism was found either on the corpse of the son or on the others.

4. Medwegya (1727-1732)

In the winter of 1731 an official Austrian commission, headed by the military surgeon Johann Flückinger was sent to investigate  incidents in the village of Medwegya in rural Serbia.  It's report, published in Vienna in January 1732,  gave rise to an explosion of interest in vampires throughout Europe.  According to the bibliography compiled by the pioneering French vampire scholar, Antoine Faivre, over twenty books and articles were published in German in 1732-33. In 1734 Ranft wrote in the German version of his treatise  that "at the last Easter fair in Leipzig it was impossible to enter a bookstore without seeing something about bloodsuckers" (quoted Introvigne, p.601.).  The case was also reported in the London JournalLe Glaneur in Holland and in the Mercure de France - the first time the term "vampyre" (and variants) became widely used in English and French. 

Events in Medwegia dated back to 1726 when a certain Arnold Paole (an irregular soldier - hajdúk  -and possibly an outsider to the community) had died after falling from a hay wagon.  Paole was known to have been troubled by a vampire when living near Gossowa in Turkish Serbia.  To protect himself, he had eaten earth from the vampire's grave and smeared himself with the vampire's blood, but  apparently all to no avail:  Paole himself now became a fully fledged "arch-vampire".

 In the thirty days or so after Paole's death, villagers reported that they had been bothered by the deceased man and four people had been killed by him.  When his corpse was dug up forty days after his burial,  it was found to be undecayed.  A stake was driven through his heart, and those of his victims.  Despite the precautions, in late 1731, a recurrence of the vampire outbreak killed another ten people. It was thought that the new victims had died because one of them had eaten meat from a sheep killed by the original vampires.  

Although Flückinger was unable to comment directly on the vampire manifestations, the commission  examined fifteen corpses and concluded that no less than eleven of them must have been vampires because they were still "full of fresh blood".  

 Calmet quotes the account given in Le Glaneur:

Chpt 10: Other instances of Ghosts – Continuation of the Gleaner

In a certain canton of Hungary, named in Latin Oppida Heidanum, beyond the Tibisk, vulgo Teiss, that is to say, between that river which waters the fortunate territory of Tokay and Transylvania, the people known by the name of Heyducqs believe that certain dead persons, whom they call vampires, suck all the blood from the living, so that these become visibly attenuated, whilst the corpses, like leeches, fill themselves with blood in such abundance that it is seen to come from them by the conduits, and even oozing through the pores. This opinion has just been confirmed by several facts which cannot be doubted, from the rank of the witnesses who have certified them. We will here relate some of the most remarkable.

About five years ago, a certain Heyducq, inhabitant of Madreiga, named Arnald Paul, was crushed to death by the fall of a wagonload of hay. Thirty days after his death four persons died suddenly, and in the same manner in which according to the tradition of the country, those die who are molested by vampires. They then remembered that this Arnald Paul had often related that in the environs of Cassovia, and on the frontiers of Turkish Servia, he had often been tormented by a Turkish vampire; for they believe also that those who have been passive vampires during life become active ones after their death, that is to say, that those who have been sucked suck also in their turn; but that he had found means to cure himself by eating earth from the grave of the vampire, and smearing himself with his blood; a precaution which, however, did not prevent him from becoming so after his death, since, on being exhumed forty days after his interment, they found on his corpse all the indications of an arch-vampire. His body was red, his hair, nails, and beard had all grown again, and his veins were replete with fluid blood, which flowed from all parts of his body upon the winding-sheet which encompassed him. The hadnagi, or bailli of the village, in whose presence the exhumation took place, and who was skilled in vampirism, had, according to custom, a very sharp stake driven into the heart of the defunct Arnald Paul, and which pierced his body through and through, which made him, as they say, utter a frightful shriek, as if he had been alive: that done, they cut off his head, and burnt the whole body. After that they performed the same on the corpses of the four other persons who died of vampirism, fearing that they in their turn might cause the death of others.

All these performances, however, could not prevent the recommencement of these fatal prodigies towards the end of last year, that is to say, five years after, when several inhabitants of the same village perished miserably. In the space of three months, seventeen persons of different sexes and different ages died of vampirism; some without being ill, and others after languishing two or three days. It is reported, amongst other things, that a girl named Stanoska, daughter of the Heyducq Jotiützo, who went to bed in perfect health, awoke in the middle of the night all in a tremble, uttering terrible shrieks, and saying that the son of the Heyducq Millo who had been dead nine weeks, had nearly strangled her in her sleep. She fell into a languid state from that moment, and at the end of three days she died. What this girl had said of Millo's son made him known at once for a vampire: he was exhumed, and found to be such. The principal people of the place, with the doctors and surgeons, examined how vampirism could have sprung up again after the precautions they had taken some years before.

They discovered at last, after much search, that the defunct Arnald Paul had killed not only the four persons of whom we have spoken, but also several oxen, of which the new vampires had eaten, and amongst others the son of Millo. Upon these indications they resolved to disinter all those who had died within a certain time, &c. Amongst forty, seventeen were found with all the most evident signs of vampirism; so they transfixed their hearts and cut off their heads also, and then cast their ashes into the river.

All the informations and executions we have just mentioned were made juridically, in proper form, and attested by several officers who were garrisoned in the country, by the chief surgeons of the regiments, and by the principal inhabitants of the place. The verbal process of it was sent towards the end of last January to the Imperial Counsel of War at Vienna, which had established a military commission to examine into the truth of all these circumstances.

Such was the declaration of the Hadnagi Barriarar and the ancient Heyducqs; and it was signed by Battuer, first lieutenant of the regiment of Alexander of Wurtemburg, Clickstenger, surgeon-in-chief of the regiment of Frustemburch, three other surgeons of the company, and Guoichitz, captain at Stallach.


Dom Augustin Calmet, Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Anges, des Démons et des Esprits, et sur les revenants, et Vampires de Hongrie, de Bohème, de Moravie, et de Silésie3rd edition, Bure l'aîné 1751.  vol. 2
English translation, The Phantom World (1850)

On Dom Calmet: 
This family history site has loads of personal information and a portrait:

Vampire literature:

Koen Vermeir, "Vampires as Creatures of the Imagination: Theories of Body, Soul, and Imagination in Early Modern Vampire Tracts (1659–1755)" Book chapter 2011.

"Les vampires et la bibliophilie", Le Blog du Bibliophile, post of 08.02.2016.
The most comprehensive bibliography of works on vampires is by the French scholar, Antoine Favre.
See Massimo Introvigne, "Antoine Faivre: father of contemporary vampire studies", paper of 2001, [Available on Academia]

"A Vampyre in Hungary" Wellcome Library Blog - English MS on Arnold Paul

There is tons written on the vampire phenomenon itself.  For an explanation of the folklore (and a fascinating, if gruesome, read) I recommend Paul Barber's book, Vampires, Burial and Death, Yale University Press, 1988.

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