Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Brick in the Mouth Kept Vampires Away?

How do you starve a vampire? Back in the 16th century, you put a brick in his or her mouth.

When archaeologists began digging in a 16th century graveyard on the Lazaretto Nuovo island north of Venice, they uncovered more than a hundred corpses which had been buried in a mass grave during a vicious plague epidemic that swept the area in 1576. Among the bodies they unearthed was that of a woman thought to have been about 60 years old when she died of plague. Someone had shoved a brick in her mouth.

Since the causes and origins of epidemics such as the Black Death were not understood at the time, medical and religious texts of the time often attributed the rise of plagues to vampires. This viewpoint was supported by the dead themselves. Gravediggers often encountered bloated bodies, sometimes with hair and fingernails still growing, and blood seeping out of their mouths. While we understand now that these phenomena are the natural result of decomposition, to the people of the day they indicated that the person was “undead.” The buried vampires would then cast spells that would spread the plague and swell their own ranks. Eventually, it was thought, the vampire would become strong enough to rise from the grave.

The best way to kill a dead body involved shoving a rock or brick into the mouth of the “vampire.” This was usually done by a priest or gravedigger, probably accompanied by appropriate prayers and other incantations. The elderly woman seems to have been the only one targeted as a vampire. No other corpses in this particularly cemetery appear to have suffered the same fate.

There is one other possible explanation for the brick: Was this really an attempt to stop a vampire, or was it a case of a husband’s revenge against a nagging wife?

If you’d like more information, here’s a good place to start.

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