Last year, archaeologists and news crews were all in a flutter over the discovery of a vampire grave in Venice, Italy. What I find surprising is that I am still hearing people talk about this amazing historical find so long after the discovery.
Last year Italian researchers found the remains of a female “vampire” in Venice; she was buried with a brick jammed between her jaws to prevent her from feeding on her grave shroud, or on others. In the 16th century a plague had spread through the area and people at the time took all precautions.
If you are a long time reader of ours and have read the vampire folklore posts then you know that a common belief back in the day was that not only did some vampires feed on blood, but that they also spread the plague. At the time villagers took all sorts of precautions to keep vampires from terrorizing them; some involved putting a brick in a corpse’s mouth, hammering nails into various body parts, placing stakes in the grave and many many more.
Matteo Borrini, an anthropologist from the University of Florence, said the discovery of the vampire woman was on the small island of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the Venice lagoon supported the medieval belief that vampires were behind the spread of plagues like the Black Death.
“This is the first time that archaeology has succeeded in reconstructing the ritual of exorcism of a vampire,” Borrini told Reuters by telephone. “This helps … authenticate how the myth of vampires was born.”
The vampire was unearthed in a mass grave from the Venetian plague of 1576. The plagues devastated Europe between 1300 and 1700. Due to the lack of knowledge on decomposing corpses at the time, the people held onto the belief that corpses were becoming vampires and spreading the plague.
Gravediggers reopening mass graves would sometimes come across bodies with hair still growing, bloated by gas, and blood oozing from their mouths and believe them to be alive, or undead. The shrouds used to cover the faces of the dead were often decayed by bacteria in the mouth, revealing the corpse’s teeth, and vampires became known as “shroud-eaters.”
According to medieval medical and religious texts, they believed that vampires spread disease in order to suck the remaining life from corpses until they acquired the strength to walk again.
“To kill the vampire you had to remove the shroud from its mouth, which was its food like the milk of a child, and put something uneatable in there,” said Borrini. “It’s possible that other corpses have been found with bricks in their mouths, but this is the first time the ritual has been recognized.”
This was quite an influential discovery for not only archeologists but also for vampire fans. I find it fascination how the many vampire myths and legends are born, from rabies to this. It’s incredible.