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The Source:

Dom Augustin Calmet [1672-1757] :
"Dissertation sur les Revenants en Corps, les Excommuniés, Les Oupirs ou Vampires, Brucolaques, etc." [1751]
Debure l'Aîné, Paris, 1751 - Volume II

The Case:

For a start, I will give you a rough translation of Dom Calmet's story:

"A priest told me, not so long ago, that while he was travelling through Moravia, he was invited by Mr. Jeanin, the Canon of the Cathedral of Olmuz, to accompany him to his village, called Liebava, where he was officially being sent by the Council of the Bishop to investigate the case of a certain well known vampire, which had caused much disorder in the village of Liebava a couple of years ago. A trial was kept, witnesses were heard, the rules of ordinary justice were kept. The witnesses declared that an important man who had lived in Liebava had often disturbed the living of the village during the night, that he had left the churchyard and had appeared in several houses, about 3 to 4 years earlier. That those painful visits had come to an end because a Hungarian stranger who was passing through the village, had told them that he would put an end to the appearances of the vampire. To keep his promise, he climbed on top of the tower of the church and waited to see the moment on which the vampire left from its grave, leaving behind the shroud in which he had been buried, after which he went on to the village to disturb the villagers. The Hungarian, who had seen the vampire leave its grave, immediately climbed down from the tower, grabbed the vampire's shroud and took it back with him to the top of the tower. When the vampire came back from his round and could not find his cloths, he shouted at the Hungarian, who signaled that if he wanted his shroud back, he should come and get it. The vampire started climbing up, but the Hungarian threw him off the ladder and cut off his head with a spade. That was the end of the tragedy.

The person who told me this story had seen nothing. Nor he, nor the Canon who was sent to investigate. They only heard the report of the local villagers, who were very ignorant, very superstitious, very gullible and prejudiced on the subject of vampirism."

The Date:

No exact date is given. We are told that the story was supposed to have taken place "about 3 or 4 years earlier". Dom Calmet's book was published in 1751, so it must have taken place a number of years (at least 3 or 4, probably more) before 1751.

The Place:

Olmuz or Olmütz is now called Olomouc and can be found in the Czech Republic. On a road map ( scale 1 : 600 000) there is a village called Meste Libavá not far from Olomouc. We might find further information on a more detailed map.
Here is a link to Olomouc:  http://www.olomouc.cz/ 

Personal Comments:

Obviously, Dom Calmet (picture above) seems to think that this is an absurd story. The whole story does indeed sound a little bit too much like some sort of fairy tale. Although, of course, we can not totally exclude the possibility that it may be founded on things that have really happened, some time, somewhere.

Talking of fairy tales, there is a ballad which has been written by Goethe, which is called" "Der Todtentanz". Its plot shows a remarkable similarity to the story from Liebava:

A watchman on top of a church tower looks down on the churchyard at midnight. He sees how the dead are leaving their tombs. They take off their shrouds and join in a "Dance of the Dead". The watchman sneaks down, steals one of the shrouds and climbs back up. After the dance, all the dead put on their shrouds and go back to their graves. Except for the one whose shroud has been stolen. The dead man can not enter the church, because the door is covered with metal crucifixes. So he starts climbing the tower wall. When he has almost reached the top, the tower clock strikes one. The witching hour is over and the dead man falls down, much to the relief of the watchman.

Possible Follow-Up:

It would be interesting to find out where Goethe has found the inspiration for his ballad. An easy (and possible) explanation could be that he has read Calmet's book. At the same time, it is not unthinkable, that the story is older than that, and that it has inspired both Goethe and the villagers of Liebava.

As a matter of fact there is an older version of the tale. You can find it listed under Eywanschitz.

We could try to find out if the old churchtower still exists. If not, perhaps its image can still be found on a painting or sketch or something. There could be an episcopal archive in Olmuz which might have the original reports of Canon Jeanin.

© 2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changed 19 November 2009
Portrait of Dom Calmet based on an old print from my collection
Links last checked 22 September 2008

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