St. Andrew’s Day

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.

July 12, 1801: Two Strikes? Vampires home free!

The Monastery of Horezu, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Wallachia, Romania

The Monastery of Horezu, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Wallachia, Romania

Wallachia, the region of southern Romania which borders the more famous region of Transylvania to the north, was an independent principality until 1859, when it united with Moldavia to form the basis of the modern state of Romania. Transylvania joined 59 years later (1918) to form the new Kingdom of Romania. Vlad the Impaler, often thought to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was actually the ruler of Wallachia (not Transylvania).

In 1801, before its unification with Moldavia, farmers and rural peasants still believed fervently in vampires even though modern science was beginning to dispel belief in vampires among the aristocracy. One of the more common ways farmers had in Wallachia to dispatch a vampire was to exhume the body and decapitate the corpse. If the vampire seemed to still attack the living after that, then the body was exhumed again and the body was either turned face-down or a wooden stake driven through it. If the attacks still seemed to continue, the body would be dug up a third time and burned (which was a difficult undertaking because dead bodies are so moist and therefore the last resort of vampire dispatchers — you can read about the fascinating science involved in burning dead bodies in Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber).

It was the continued exhumation of corpses which came to the attention of the Wallachian authorities. On July 1, 1801 the authorities in Wallachia proclaimed that a corpse could not be exhumed more than TWICE in Wallachian territory if it was suspected of being a vampire!

Blood was not only important to the vampires the Wallachian farmers were trying to destroy. The stunningly beautiful Curtea de Arges Monastery was built by a ruler of Wallachia in 1512. But the walls kept crumbling because of a problem with the foundations. The architect and construction workers resorted to an ancient practice to reinforce the foundations: they sprinkled the blood of a newborn baby on the foundations and the walls stopped crumbling. (Another version of the story says how the pregnant wife of the architect was sealed alive inside the walls in order to stop them from crumbling.)

Dracula Arrives in New York

Dracula Rare Original 1927 progm

The play Dracula opened in New York’s Schubert Theatre on September 19, 1927. Originally a 1924 stage play adapted by Hamilton Deane from the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker, it was substantially revised by John L. Balderston in 1927. It was the first adaptation of the novel authorised by Stoker’s widow, and has influenced many subsequent adaptations.

In 1927 the play was brought to Broadway by Horace Liveright, who hired John L. Balderston to revise the script for American audiences. The American production starred Bela Lugosi in his first major English-speaking role, with Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing; both actors reprised their roles in the 1931 film version, which drew on the Deane-Balderston play.

In addition to radically compressing the plot, the 1927 rewrite by Balderston, reduced the number of significant characters, combining Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray into a single character, making John Seward this Lucy’s father, and disposing of Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood. In Dean’s original version Quincey was changed to a female to provide work in the play for more actresses.

The play was revived in 1977, in a production featuring set and costume designs by Edward Gorey and starring Frank Langella as Dracula. The production won Tony Awards for Best Revival and Best Costume Design, and was nominated for Best Scenic Design and Best Leading Actor in a Play (Langella). Langella, like Lugosi, went on to reprise the role in the 1979 film version. Subsequent actors in the title role for the Broadway revival included David Dukes, Raul Julia and Jean LeClerc, while the London production starred Terence Stamp and American touring companies starred Martin Landau and Jeremy Brett.

(Related to the theatrical opening of Dracula, the popular television series The Addams Family debuted on September 18, 1964 and Romania issued a stamp depicting Vlad Dracul in honor of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Bucharest on September 20, 1959.)