Fran Francken II (Flanders, Antwerp, 1581-1642) painting of St. Andrew’s crucifixion, circa 1620, on exhibit in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
St. Andrew, the first man to join Christ as an apostle, was crucified on an X-shaped cross. He is now widely venerated as the patron of Scotland, Russia, and many other places. His X-shaped cross appears on the flags of many countries that looked to him for protection. His feast–on November 29 in some places and November 30 in other places–is both especially popular for magic that reveals a young woman’s future husband and was believed to be the start of the most popular time for vampires to come hunt the living, which would last until Saint George’s Eve (22 April).
In Romania, it is customary for young women to put 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillow before they go to sleep, and if they dream that someone is coming to steal their grains that means that they are going to get married next year. Also in some other parts of the country the young women light a candle from the Easter celebration and bring it, at midnight, to a fountain. They ask Saint Andrew to let them glimpse their future husband. Saint Andrew is invoked to ward off wolves, who are thought to be able to eat any animal they want on this night, and to speak to humans. A human hearing a wolf speak to him will die.
In Póvoa de Varzim, an ancient fishing town in Portugal there is Cape Santo André (Portuguese for “Saint Andrew”) and near the cape there are small pits in the rocks that the people believe these are footprints of Saint Andrew. Saint Andrew Chapel there was built in the Middle Ages and is the burial site of drowned fishermen found at the cape. (St. Andrew was also a fisherman in the New Testament.) Fishermen also asked St. Andrew for help while fishing.
It was common to see groups of fishermen, holding candles in their hands, making a pilgrimage to the Cape’s chapel on Saint Andrew’s Eve. Many might still believe that any Portuguese fisherman who does not visit Santo André in life will have to make the pilgrimage after they die.
The novel “Dracula” (by Bram Stoker, who was born Nov. 8, 1847) was fairly well-regarded at its publication but not wildly popular. Yet is has become one of the west well-known stories ever told.
Dracula, the creation of Bram Stoker (whose 170th birthday is this week), is perhaps one of the most famous characters ever created. He stalks our nightmares as well as our television and movie screens. He fills our bookcases. We spend days at conferences talking about him. He read about him, over and over and over again.
Of course, one reason he became so popular was the way he was portrayed by Bela Lugosi in the movie: “Lugosi possessed all the menace of Stoker’s Dracula but he added a curious charisma. While not traditionally handsome, Lugosi combined an intense screen presence with a deliberate, heavily accented speech to create a Dracula who was almost as mesmerizing as he was repellent. Indeed, he so thoroughly captured this aura of entrancing danger that it has since become difficult to remember Stoker’s original figure, who possesses little of this charm.” (For more about this, click here. Or here.)
Another reason Dracula is so popular is that he can stand in for whatever most terrifies society: he is the dead body who will not stay dead, that comes back to hunt the living; he is the old lord of feudal society stalking the capitalists who have taken control; he is the dark foreigner and immigrant who invades well-do-do white society; he is the personification of disease and epidemic that sweeps across the countryside. He is madness and mental illness that strikes without warning. (Dr. Frankenstein‘s monster has also been a cipher for societal fears over the years as well.)
Whether he is a villain or an anti-hero, Dracula will be with us forever!
Piotr Stachiewicz (Polish, a cycle of illustrations portraying the life and legends of Jadwiga, “King” of Poland.) This scene depicts a drowned man she brought back to life by draping her cloak over his wet corpse.
Jadwiga, also known as Hedwig (without an “angry inch!”), was the first female monarch of the Kingdom of Poland, reigning from October 16, 1384 until her death (July 1399). Jadwiga was crowned “king,” reflecting the Polish lords’ opposition to her intended future husband, William; she married someone else instead but remained “king” herself.
Her marriage made the union of Poland and Lithuania possible, establishing a large state in eastern Central Europe. She established new hospitals, schools and churches, and restored older ones that had fallen into ruin. Jadwiga promoted the use of Polish rather than Latin in church services, especially the singing of hymns in Polish. She ordered that the Bible be translated into Polish. Jadwiga bought houses along a central street of Kraków in order to establish the university there. In accordance with Jadwiga’s last will, the university was partially financed through the sale of her jewels. Her charity led many to consider her a saint. She is said to have brought the dead to life on at least one occasion (see illustration above).
Poland has always been a source of fascinating tales and legends. Vampire stories were more common in Poland than in Transylvania (Romania). Vampire graves in Poland are recognised by the positioning of the body in the tomb: those thought to be vampires were buried face down, in the fetal position, with their heads cut off and placed between their legs, with wooden or metal pegs and studs piercing their bodies, or in a grave held down by rocks. Many such graves have been discovered in different parts of Poland. Underneath Kraków’s main square researchers discovered female skeletons laid in the fetal position, and in another town the body of a woman was found with her hand cut off and placed in her mouth.