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The Source:

Henry More :
"An Antidote against Atheism - or - An Appeal to the Natural Faculties of the Mind of Man, whether there be not a God" (1653)
as quoted in Montague Summers' "The Vampire in Europe".

The Case:

In Breslaw, one of the chief towns of Silesia, on Friday, September 20th in 1591, a shoemaker killed himself by cutting his throat with a knife. His relatives tried to hide his act by washing the corpse and covering him with linen in such a manner that the priest was fooled into thinking that the man had died of some sort of disease. So the dead man was buried with the usual religious ceremony, despite his "crime". Within six weeks, however, rumours started circulating that the shoemaker had killed himself.

The relatives were questioned by the authorities and soon confessed to their deed, claiming that "it was uncertain but that he might be slain by some external mishap, or, if by himself, in some irresistible fit of phrency or madness". While the Council was still deliberating on what action they should take, the widow was making loud complaints against the malicious liars who were accusing her husband, and she made such a lot of noise about it, threatening to complain to the Emperor himself, that the Council was beginning to feel intimidated and were contemplating to leave the case alone. At the same time, however, new rumours started circulating. The dead man had come back from the grave.

"Those that were asleep it terrified with horrible visions; those that were waking it would strike, pull or press, lying heavy upon them like an Ephialtes : so that there were perpetual complaints every morning of their last night's rest through the whole town."

The dead man's friends tried to ridicule and suppress these rumours. But things were getting worse and worse. At nightfall, people started worrying and hastened home to hide inside their houses. Not that it did them much good.

"For this terrible Apparrition would sometimes stand by their bed-sides, sometimes cast itself upon the midst of their beds, would lie close to them and pinch them, that not only blue marks, but plain impression of the fingers would be upon sundry parts of their bodies in the morning".

Even when groups of men were gathering together for safety, the dead man might suddenly appear , beat up some of those who were present, and then disappear again. Things were so getting out of hand that the authorities had no other option than to disinter the corpse. And so, on April 18th, 1592, the grave was reopened., with the town's Magistrates present.

"His body was found entire, not at all putrid, no ill smell about him saving the mustiness of the Grave-cloaths, his joints limber and flexible, as in those who are alive, his skin only flaccid, but a more fresh grown in the room of it, the wound of his throat gaping, but no gear nor corruption in it . . ."

The corpse was kept unburied until the 24th and lots of people came to see it. Then it was buried under the Gallows, but this did not improve the situation. The dead man's attacks became more violent, and he had now started to visit his relatives as well. So this time it was his widow who went to the Magistrate and told him that she no longer objected to taking action against her dead husband.

On May the 7th they dug up the body and found that he had grown "more sensibly fleshy" since his previous interment. They cut off the head, legs and arms of the corpse, and - through the back - cut out his heart, which looked as fresh as the heart of a newly killed calf. They burned the various parts, gathered the ashes in a sack, and poured the ashes into the river. After that, the dead man was never seen again.

But we are also told how one of the dead man's servants reappeared after her death. Sometimes in the shape of a woman, at other times as a dog, a cat, a hen or a goat. Interesting detail : at one point this undead servant was scared off by someone who crossed herself and called upon the name of Jesus. After the corpse had been burnt, she was never seen again.

The Date:

We are given an exact date: Friday, September 20th, 1591.

The Place:

Breslau or Breslaw has now changed its name to Wroclaw and can be found in the South West of Poland. Here is a link that will take you to Breslau:  http://www.wroclaw.pl/ 

Personal Comments:

The part about the shoemaker sounds as if most of it could have happened, although we can only speculate as to what exactly is behind the tales of the vampire's reappearance. The stories about the servant turning herself into all sorts of demonic animals, sound just like the kind of tall tales that might start circulating under a group of people whose imagination is being fed by hysterical fear.

In the meantime, however, we have found a different version of this story. Please check our case listed under "Striegau".

Possible Follow-Up:

You could start by finding Summers' version and compare it to mine. Never take anyone's word for it, and always try to find the real sources. Therefore, also try to find Henry More's original text and compare it to Summers'. And after that, try to find More's source. See if there are any archives, in Breslau or in other places, that have additional material on the case.

© 2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changed August 2012
Link last checked 22 September 2008

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