Extract on vampires from ‘The Present State of the Greek and Arminian Churches’ (Paul Ricault – 1679

The term ‘vampire’ is not used in the original, however, this is a model of vampirism which will be referenced frequently in 18th and 19th century texts and is an interesting insight into an early communication of the idea (vampire as the result of religious Excommunication specifically in a Greek Orthodox context) to an anglophone audience. Original spelling has been retained. I have provided the preceding material of the rite of Excommunication relevant to the discussion of vampirism.

‘In the Exercise of this censure of Excommunication, the Greek Church is so ready and frequent, that the common use of it might seem to render it hte more contemptible; but that the Sentence is pronounced with so much horrour, and the sad effects which have ensued thereupon, not only to the living, but also to the Corps and Carcasses of such who have dyed under Excommunication, are related with that evidence and certainty as still confirms in the people the efficacy of that Authority which the Church exercises therein. The form of Excommunication is either expressive of the party with his name and condition, secluding him from the use of Divine Ordinances, or otherwise indefinite of any person who is guilty of such a crime or Misdemeanour. As for Example, If any person is guilty of Theft, which is not discovered, an Excommunication is taken out against him, whosoever he be, that hath committed the Theft, which is not to be remitted until Restitution is made; and so the fault is published and repeated at a full Congregation, and then follows the Sentence of Excommunication in this form.

(At this point the Greek is also provided which I am unable to read and transcribe)

‘If they restore not to him that which is his own, and possess him peacably of it, but suffer him to remain injured and damnifyed; let him be separated from the Lord God Creatour, and be accursed and unpardoned, and undissolvable after death in this World, and in the other which is to come. Let Wood, Stones, and Iron be dissolved but not they: May they inherit the Leprosie of Gchazi, and the Confusion of Judas; may the Earth be divided, and devour them like Dathan and Abiram; may they sigh and tremble on earth like Cain and the wrath of God be upon their heads and Countenances; may they see nothing of that for which they labour, and beg their Bread all the days of their lives; may their Works, Possessions, Labours and Services be accursed; always without effect or success, and blown away like dust; may they have the Curses of the holy and righteous Patriarchs Abram, Isaac and Jacob; of the 318 Saints who were the Divine Father of the Synod of Nice, and of all other holy Synods; and being without the Church of Christ, let no man administer unto them the things of the Church, or bless them, or offer Sacrifice for them, or give them the ‘(untranslated from the Greek and obscured)’ or the blessed Bread, or eat, or drink, or work with them, or converse with them; and after death, let no man bury them, in penalty of being under the same state of Excommunication, for so let them remain until they have performed what is here written.’

The effect of this dreadful Sentence is reported by the Greek Priests to have been in several instances so evident, that none doubts or disbelieves the consequences of all those maledictions repeated therein; and particularly, that the body of an excommunicated person is not capable of returning to its first Principles until the Sentence of Excommunication is taken off. It would be esteemed no Curse amongst us to have our Bodies remain uncorrupted and entire in the Grave, who endeavour by Art, and Aromatick Spices, and Gums, to preserve them from Corruption: And it is also accounted, amongst the Greeks themselves, as a miracle and particular grace and favour of God to the Bodies of such whom they have Canonized for Saints to continue unconsumed, and in the moist damps of the Vault, to dry and desiccate like the Mummies in Egypt, or in the Hot sands of Arabia. But they believe that the Bodies of the Excommunicated are possessed in the Grave by some evil spirit, which actuates and preserves them from Corruption, in the same manner as the Soul informes and animates the living body; and that they feed in the night, walk digest, and are nourished, and have been found ruddy in Complexion, and their Veins, after forty days Burial, extended with Blood, which being opened with a Lancer, have yielded a gore as plentiful, fresh and quick, as that which issues from the Vessels of young and sanguine persons. This is so generally believed and discoursed of amongst the Greeks, that there is scarce one of their Country Villages, but what can witness and recount several instances of this nature, both by the relation of their Parents, and Nurses, as well as of their own knowledge, which they tell with as much variety as we do the Tales of Witches and Enchantments, of which it is observed in Conversation, that scarce one story is ended before another begins like wonder. But to let pass the common and various Reports of the Vulgar, this one may suffice for all, which was recounted to me with many asseverations of its truth, by a grave Candiot Kaloir, called Sofronio, a Preacher, and a person of no mean repute and learning at Smyrna.

‘I knew, (said he) a certain person, who for some misdemeanours committed in the Morea, fled over to the Isle of Milo, where though he avoided the hand of Justice, yet could not avoid the Sentence of Excommunication, from which he could no more fly, than from the conviction of his own Conscience, or the guilt which ever attended him; for the fatal hour of his death being come, and the Sentence of the Church not revoked, the Body was carelessly and without Solemnity interred in some retired and unfrequented place. In the mean time the Relations of the deceased were much affected, and anxious for the sad estate of their dead Friend, whilst the Paisants and Islanders were every night affrighted and disturbed with strange and unusual apparitions, which they immediately concluded arose from the Grave of the accursed Excommunicant, which according to their Custom, they immediately opened, and therein found the Body uncorrupted, ruddy, and the Veins replete with Blood: The Coffin was furnished with Grapes, Apples and Nuts, and such fruit as the Season afforded: Whereupon, Consultation being made, the Kaloires resolved to make use of the common Remedy in those cases, which was to cut and dismember the Body into several parts, and to boyl it in Wine, as the approved means to dislodge the evil Spirit, and dispose the body to a dissolution: But the friends of the deceased, being willing and desirous that the Corps should rest in peace, and some ease given to the departed Soul, obtained a Reprieve from the Clergy, and hopes, that for a sum of Money, (they being persons of a competent Estate) a Release might be purchased from this Excommunication under the hand of the Patriarch. In this manner the Corps were for a while freed from dissection, and Letters thereupon sent to Constantinople, with this direction, That in case the Patriarch should condescend to take off the Excommunication, that the day, hour and minute that he signed the Remission should be inserted in the Date. And now the Corps were taken into the Church, (the Coutnry-people not being willing they should remain in the Field) and Prayers and Masses daily said for its dissolution, and pardon of the Offender: When one day after many Prayers, Supplications and Offerings (as this Sofronio attested to me with many attestations) and whilst he himself was performing Divine Service, on a sudden was heard a rumbling noise in the Coffin of the dead party, to the fear and astonishment of all person there present, which when they had opened, they found the Body consumed and dissolved as far into its first Principles of Earth, as if it had been seven years interred. The hour and minute of this dissolution was immediately noted and precisely observed, which being compared with the Date of the Patriarch’s release, when it was signed at Constantinople, it was found exactly to agree with that moment in which the Body returned to its Ashes.’ This story I should not have judged worth relating, but that I heard it from the mouth of a grave person, who says, That his own eyes were Witnesses thereof; and though notwithstanding I esteem it a matter not assured enough to be believed by me, yet let it serve to evidence the esteem they entertain of the validity and force of Excommunication. I had once the curiosity to be present at the opening of a Grave of one lately dead, who, as the people of the Village reported, walked in the night, and affrighted them with strange Phantasmes; but it was not my fortune to see the Corps in that nature, nor to find the Provisions with which the Spirit nourishes it, but only such a Spectacle as is usual after six or seven days Burial in the Grave, however Turks as well as Christians discourse of these matters with much confidence.

Published by SamHirst

This started off as a story blog to share the little fictions that I like to write but it's turned into something a bit more Goth! I'm Dr Sam Hirst and I research the Gothic, theology and romance and at the moment I'm doing free Gothic classes online! We also have readalongs, watchalongs and reading groups. And I post fun little Gothic bits when I have the chance. Find me on twitter @RomGothSam

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