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article image‘Vampire’ found near Venice

By Richard van der Draay     Mar 13, 2009 in World
Archaeologists have exhumed the body of a 16th Century woman near Venice. The woman was found to have a brick between her jaws.
It is believed that at the time it must have been thought that she was a vampire. The Associated Press reported the find among other news outlets.
The corpse was found in 2006 but the investigation has only now been completed.
‘Vampires don’t exist but research shows that at that time people believed they did’, said Matteo Borrini, who has carried out research on the body over the past two years.
He said that now for the first time there is evidence of an exorcism to banish a vampire.
The well-preserved remains were discovered in a mass grave on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, north of Venice. The mass grave was dug when the city was struck by an outbreak of pestilence in 1576.
Medieval texts show that the belief in vampires was further encouraged by the unsettling sight of the decomposing bodies.
During epidemics mass graves were often re-opened to bury fresh bodies. There is a chance that the grave diggers would be confronted by older bodies that were swollen and had blood running from the mouth.
Borrini said that it has to do with the way in which bodies perish and what they would have seen would be fat, dead bodies, covered in blood and with a hole in their shrouds where their mouths were. They would then say: ‘This one is alive, drinking blood and eating his shroud.’
Nowadays, it is known that decomposing bodies swell up due to gasses, that the liquids are forced from the mouth by decomposing organs and that the shroud is eaten away by germs in the region of the mouth.
But back then, according to Borrini, there were texts that were seen as scientific that declared that the cloth eaters were vampires that fed on the shroud and uttered curses to spread the pestilence so that there would be more ‘undead’.
To kill these zombies it was not enough to drive a wooden stake through the heart. What was called for was to place a brick or a stone in the mouth of the vampire so that he or she would starve. This is probably what happened to the woman who was buried on Lazaretto.
Research showed that the woman in question was about sixty years old when she died of the plague, during the same outbreak that cost painter Titian his life.
Much later, when the grave was re-opened, someone placed a brick in her mouth. This could have been done by a priest as this was quite common.
Borrini said that the ‘real’ vampire from the folk beliefs of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance was very different from the elegant, aristocratic Dracula from Bram Stoker’s novel of 1897 and many film adaptations from the 20th Century. ‘The real vampire was a decomposing corpse’, said Borrini
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