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.
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.)