At it`s core the legend of the Demidoff Princess is a tale of good old greed and craving for money.
The legend of Père-Lachaise is a rather interesting one as it is based on a couple of true facts. That`s why I think of it as an urban myth rather then a legend.
It all started around 1880 when some newspapers began running a story about a Russian princess who would leave a fortune to the person who would stay inside the chapel on top of her tomb for a year and a day.
It was reported that the princess was inside a glass coffin and that to make sure that her companion would see her at all times, the walls of the chapel had all been covered with mirrors. The only thing he or she was allowed to do was read.
There should be no contact with any living soul, not even the servant who would bring food on a daily basis.
Now this weird bit of news got picked up by foreign newspapers and started circulating around the world. Soon, the director of the Père-Lachaise Cemetery received letters from everywhere, from people who wanted to take up this challenge and stay in the tomb.
Quite a few of them were women.
Both the text and the reaction to the myth were analyzed by Frédéric Ortoli and his opinion on the matter can be found in his “La Tradition” [a magazine he kept, pertaining folklore, legends and superstitions]. According to him, the legend was fueled for so long and even picked up in other countries because it was linked to the human fear of being buried alive.
It is as if the princess wanted to make sure that if she ever were to be buried alive then someone would be there to help her upon her awakening – hence the glass coffin and all the mirrors.
Almost all agree on the fact that the Russian Princess was in fact Lady Demidoff [born Stroganoff] who died in 1818. Her exact title remains unclear… some refer to her as a Baroness, some say she is a Countess and others refer to her as being a Princess.
But the Demidoff tomb doesn`t fit the description in the news. In stead there is another in the 48th division of the famous cemetery that resembles the one in the legend. It belongs to a rich family from Provence – the de Beaujour.
The legend resurfaced in 1894 with an added twist. It was said that all that attempted to complete the task either gave up or went insane. Hauntings were reported and some even claimed that the princess is a vampire.
To that end, many have analyzed the symbolism on the Demidoff tomb and came to the conclusion that it is a “center for vampiric activity”. Everything was taken into consideration and given a special meaning… starting with the exact date of her death [8th of April 1818] that contains the number “888”, to the supposed orientation of the tomb and the engravings on it [a lot of Egyptian symbols, bats and wolfs].
I cannot tell you at what point it turned into an urban vampire legend, but the legend of the Demidoff Princess continues to fascinate to this day.
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† Vampire Accounts
The events took place around 1875 in the village of Boureni, in the southern region of Romania [Valahia, close to the border with Bulgaria].
The story was first published in 1927 by N.I.Dumitrascu in his “Strigoi – din credintele, datinile si povestirile poporului roman, vol.XXXVIII” [The undead – from the beliefs, customs and tales of the Romanian people, chapter 38] and was later spread in the continent by Adrien Cremene in his “Mythologie du Vampire en Roumanie” [Vampire mythology in Romania] – published in 1981.
This vampire case is rather interesting because of all the details – many of them not useful at all.
A young peasant girl had become pregnant – much to the shame of her family since she was not bestrewed or married. She handled the pregnancy as best she could and [as story goes] since the baby turned restless most of the time she ended up promising that she would give him all the animals of a wealthy family from the region… just to calm him down.
When the time came, she gave birth to a baby boy with a caul. It died before it could be baptized so he was buried outside the local cemetery.
It became a Moroi [Romanian version of a baby-vampire] and soon after the sheep of that respective family [the Ionicani] started to die with no apparent reason.
One night, the shepherd saw the baby chasing the sheep in the form of a white cloud and he chased it away. He followed it to the grave and upon unearthing the corpse saw what it had turned into and took actions to keep it from rising again.
He chopped the tiny corpse into pieces and boiled it into wine. Then he reburied the baby and the animals were once again safe.
Since the baby was born with a distinctive sign [caul] and was illegitimate he was a likely candidate for a vampire. Adding the fact that he died before the baptism ritual could be performed and we have 100% chance for a return from the grave. I`ll admit that belief in vampire attacks on the lifestock was common in those days, but I suspect that the story about the promise was an exaggeration. I don`t really see the need for such a twist in the story.
Again we have an unusual behavior in the moment of the unearthing – we aren`t given any details about the condition of the corpse and the way it is dealt with is a peculiar on: boiling in wine?!?!?
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† Vampire Accounts
Back in 1997 Radio Prague had a very nice story to report.
“The archaeological investigation that has been carried out in the presbytery of the Chapel of the Holy Trinity in the Moravian town of Prostejov has brought to light a lucky and spectacular discovery: the tomb of a suspected vampire.
The director of the Archaeological Institute of Brno, Milos Cizmár, emphasizes the fact that the remains of the supposed vampire were discovered inside a coffin which had been secured with forged iron bars to make sure that it would not commit any crimes after its death.
The scientists think that this find must date back to the 16th or 17th Century, and that it demonstrates the fear for vampirism in those days.
When the coffin was opened, the archaeologists recognized the precautions that had been taken by the supposed vampire’s contemporaries to make sure that it would not come out of the coffin: a pile of stones covered the lower part of the legs of the cadaver and its torso had been separated from the rest of the corpse.”
We have no information on the identity of the person buried with this anti-vampire measure. To my knowledge not even a legend surfaced about it.
None the less… someone went to a great deal to prevent the dead from returning from the grave so it is a true vampire account.
The archeological find is legitimate and the number of “vampire graves” that were uncovered all over the Slavic territory is testimony to the fact that the belief in vampires was widespread throughout the Middle Ages in all of Europe.
Methods of dealing with the corpses of the supposed vampires were plenty and the ones exhibited by this particular case aren
t the worst Ive seen described. The ~Superstitions~ page should give you a good idea on that… along with the ~Vampire Accounts~ page.
Perhaps the reason why people were so scared of the undead was because according to Slavic belief, the vampire could even have sexual relations with his wife and produce a child that would be born without bones. The vampire wouldn`t only attack on a physical base but it would also instill fear in the villagers – so much that they no longer respected the dead and chose to mutilate the corpses of their family members.
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† Vampire Accounts