Vampires have been thrilling us since the middle ages. Before Jonathan Harker made his fateful trip to Transylvania, peasants across Europe were taking part in bizarre burial rituals to make sure their loved ones didn’t pay them an unwanted nighttime visit. These included headstones to weigh down coffin lids, nailing the deceased’s clothes to the inside of the coffins and – yes – staking them through the heart… just as a precaution.
Vampires in history and folklore
Whilst Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory (pictured above) are probably the most infamous ‘vampires’ in history, they were certainly not alone. Jure Grando was a peasant from the village of Kringa, Istria (modern-day Croatia) who died in 1656. He allegedly terrorized villagers in the area for 16 years after his death.
Jure Grando’s case is important in vampire folklore as it was the first time in history that the word “vampire” was officially applied to a person.
The Legend of Jure Grando
Sixteen years after Jure Grando died and was buried, he was reported roaming the streets at night, knocking on villager’s doors. The knocking was seen as a sign: a few days after any door was knocked on, someone from that household would die. Things got worse as Grando remained unchallenged – he would visit his widow at night and demand sex.
Unsurprisingly, villagers took exception to Grando’s behaviour and called to the village priest, Giorgio, for help. When Father Giorgio eventually came face to face with the vampire, he held out a cross in front of him and cried “Behold Jesus Christ, you vampire! Stop tormenting us!” And, at that moment, tears fell from the vampire’s eyes.
A group of brave villagers, led by Miho Radetic, chased and tried to kill the vampire by piercing his heart with a hawthorn stick. However, the stick just bounced off his chest, and the vampire escaped. The next night, the group went to the graveyard in which Jure Grando had been buried sixteen years before, carrying a cross, lamps, and another hawthorn stick. They dug up Grando’s coffin and found a perfectly preserved corpse – with a smile on its face!
Father Giorgio declared: “Look, strigon [vampire], there is a Jesus Christ who saved us from hell and died for us. And you, strigon, cannot have peace!”
They employed the hawthorn stake again, but to no avail – it would not penetrate the corpse’s flesh.
After some prayers, another villager, Stipan Milasic, took a saw and decapitated the corpse. As soon as the saw tore his skin, the vampire screamed and blood started to flow from the cut, and soon the whole grave was full of blood.
After the vampire’s second death, peace finally returned to Kringa.
Fact or fiction?
Some believe Grando faked his death, and that he was just a thief. The vampire hysteria that swept the village could be to blame for the reports of the ‘knocking’ death, and it is also rumoured that Grando’s wife was the one who reinvented her husband as a demon, so people would fear him. With such a story backing his night-time movements, Grando could steal whatever he wanted.
The manner of Grando’s death certainly bears looking at – a regular thief with the presence of mind to protect his chest (chainmail, hard wood, etc.) could be immune to a hawthorn stake, but nothing would help with decapitation.
And yet… sixteen years is an awfully long time to pretend to be dead…
Fun fact: Today, Kringa has embraced the story of Jure Grando and have opened up a vampire themed bar aimed at attracting tourists to the town.
Vampires around the world
The Chinese Jiangshi is a far-cry from the sultry, seductive vampires of the Western world. Its distinctive features are blueish-green skin (due to rot) and limbs so stiff, it is necessary for it to hop everywhere.
Not exactly a vampire who can hide in plain sight!
Although a Jiangshi traditionally steals a person’s life force (or qi), the blood-sucking traits of vampire culture have been absorbed into its mythology.
Vampires (The scientific theory)
Symptomatically, the genetic condition Porphyria shares similarities with that of vampirism., specifically the infamous ‘allergy’ to sunlight and various types of blood abnormalities. This condition, combined with instances of what we now diagnose as comas, may provide a scientific explanation for the historical accounts of ‘vampire hysteria’.