Monday, July 11, 2022

Kringa, Croatia: The First European Vampire

The Croatian region of Istria, which borders Slovenia, was once owned by Italy, and there remain many Italian influences, including that Italian is one of their two official languages. To the ancient Romans, the land was known as "Terra Magica," the "Magical Land." It's a region rife with numerous legends, from faeries to giants, from ley lines to Perun, the Thunder God. During my recent trip to Croatia, I also had the opportunity to visit the site of another Istrian legend, that of the first historic European vampire!

Jure Grando Alilović (known in Italian as Giure Grando) was born in 1579 in the small village of Kringa, located about 22 miles north of Pula. Jure Grando worked as a stone mason, and "Grando" is likely a nickname, referring to his large build. He married a woman named Ivana, and they had two children, a daughter Ana and a son Nikola.

Jure Grando died in 1656, at the ripe old age of about 77, from some unknown illness. Although he lived a long life, the legend claims this his "life" didn't end with his death. Each night, After his death, he allegedly rose from the grave as a vampire. The term used to describe him was strigoi (or štrigon and štrigun), which can refer to both a vampire or a warlock. As Jure Grando came back from the dead, he was considered more of a vampire, and there were stories that he actually drank blood. 

It's claimed that the reason Jure Grando became a vampire is that he wasn't buried properly, that his tongue hadn't been pierced by a nail. No explanation was given why he hadn't been buried in the right way, which had been presided over by Father Giorgio. For an incredible 16 years, Jure Grando terrorized Kringa, stalking the village during the night. He would knock at a door, and then someone living at that home would die within a few days, a victim of the vampire. It's unknown how many villagers died in this manner. 

In addition, Jure Grando allegedly visited his wife, on many occasions, sexually assaulting her, and even drinking her blood. Ivana described her former husband as a smiling corpse. Soon after Jure Grando's nocturnal attacks began, his two children were sent away to Volterra, Italy, a small town southwest of Florence, ostensibly to protect them from their vampiric father. 

In 1672, after sixteen years of terror, nine villagers, including prefect Miho Radetić and Father Giorgio, assembled in the graveyard to finally put an end to Jure Grando. They dug up his grave, opened his coffin, and found that he was a well preserved corpse, which was smiling, and not the rotted and decayed body he should have been after all of those years. Father Giorgio said some prayers over the corpse, hoping to make it stop its predations, and one of the villagers tried to puncture its heart with a stake of hawthorn, a famed method of destroying a vampire. Unfortunately, the stake wasn't able to pierce his flesh.

After more prayers, one of the villagers, Stipan Milašić, attempted to decapitate the vampire, using either an ax or a saw. The corpse bled profusely as the blade cut into its flesh, and the vampire screamed out in rage and pain. However, once decapitated, that was the end of Jure Grando, and he never harmed anyone in the village ever again. His final resting place is currently unknown, and there isn't any marker in the local graveyard to indicate where he was buried. 

Jure Grando was the first person described in European historical records as a vampire. Although Vlad Dracula existed during the 15th century, about 200 years before Jure Grando, Dracula wasn't ever mentioned as a vampire until Bram Stoker's novel in 1897. The tale of Jure Grando was first written about seventeen years after his decapitation. The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (Slava vojvodine Kranjske), written by Janez Vajkard Valvasor, was published in 1689 in Germany. This work was an encyclopedia, consisting of four volumes, that described the travels of Janez, including his visit to Kringa, and the vampire tale of Jure Grando. Janez also mentioned that Kringa was a market village where there was always "more wine than water."

Some of the superstitious beliefs of the Istrian people were also mentioned in this book. For example, "The people of the Istrian countryside are firmly convinced that sorcerers suck the blood of children. This sucker of blood they call 'strigon' or 'vedavec'. They believe that after his death a 'strigon' wanders about the village around midnight, knocking at, or striking, doors and that someone will die within days in the house whose doors he has struck. And if someone dies during this period, the peasants insist that the 'strigon' has eaten him. Even worse is the belief of these gullible peasants that the wandering 'strigoni' furtively creep into their beds and sleep with their wives without ever letting out a single word."  

Other books over the years would reference the tale of Jure Grando as well, including Letters on Truths in Popular Superstition by Herbert Mayo, which was published in 1848. Interestingly, this book was one of those used by Bram Stoker in his research for his novel Dracula. As Jure Grando was decapitated at his end, the character Jonathan Harker used a Kukri knife to decapitate Dracula at the end of the novel. Jure Grando and Dracula shared the same fate.

There was also an article that appeared in November 1856 in the Chamber's Repository which also related a story about Jure Grando. It stated, "The widow Grando also complained that she was tormented by the spirit of her husband, who night after night threw her into a deep sleep with the object of sucking her blood." And as for the death of the vampire, "A hawthorn stake was brought forward, and as often as they strove to drive it through the body the sharpened wood rebounded, and it was not until one of the number sprang into the grave and cut off the vampire's head that the evil spirit departed with a loud shriek and a contortion of the limbs."

After a visit to Pula, we headed inland and stopped in Kringa for a brief visit. Unfortunately, it was a holiday so the village was very quiet, and everything was closed up. Almost no one could be seen on the village streets, almost as if the village was uninhabited, although that wasn't the case. There is a Jure Grando Museum but it was closed at the time of our visit. There are also four churches in tiny Kringa, including the Parish Church of St. Peter & Paul, the Church of St. Anne, the Church of St. Catherine, and the Church of St. Anthony the Hermit. I've read of a vampire-themed bar in Kringa, but I didn't see it while wandering the village and maybe it closed in the recent past. 

In August 2006, a plaque was installed on the outside of a school in Kringa, commemorating the villagers who destroyed the vampire Jure Grando. It's a small plaque, which many people might overlook, and the lettering has faded some so it's not as easy to read. It's also written in Croatian, so many tourists might not understand it. However, the term "vampiru" might stand out if you read the place closely. 

The plaque states that the villagers included: Prefect Miho Radetić, Stipan Milasic, Matej Hrvatin, Nikola I Jure Macina, Juraj Zuzic, Martin Udovivic, Nicola Krajsa, and a Pauline monk, Father Juraj I Nikola Nyena from Lupoglav. It also states, in a rough translation, that "at the local cemetery" they "confronted the vampire Juri Grando and freed Kringa forever" from "nocturnal attacks" as "evidenced by the record of Johan Weikard Valvasor."

The story of Jure Grando is fascinating, and it was cool to get to visit the village at the center of that tale. Istria is a compelling destination, and this was but one of the highlights of my visit to this region, and I'll be writing plenty more about Istria in the near future. 

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