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In the 16th century, the town of Pentsh, in the region of Silesia in eastern Europe, was allegedly plagued by an abominable being. The people of the town believed that the creature was their own recently deceased resident, Johannes Cuntius.
The remarkable tale is reported on in An Antidote Against Atheism, a book published by the English philosopher Henry More in 1655. More describes Cuntius as having been a highly-regarded and wealthy man, who had served as an alderman for his town. Amongst his many possessions were five strong horses which he kept in his stables. One day, he and a servant were attempting to shoe one of the horses when he received a mortal blow from the horse’s hoof. Death did not come easily to the alderman. He is reported to have suffered for many nights, repeatedly yelling, “Wo is me, how do I burn, and am all on fire!”1
At his terminal hour, he complained of his sins and how he was due to suffer for them – sins which he exclaimed were “bigger than all the sins of the world besides.”2
Some in the area speculated that Cuntius had made a pact with the devil. They whispered that shortly before he had become wealthy, he had had a son who subsequently disappeared. This child, it was rumoured, had been sold to Satan.3
Cuntius’ injury and incipient illness were fatal, consuming him in the middle of the night. At the moment of his death, his eldest son supposedly witnessed a black cat rush into the room and scratch at the dying man’s face, as though in an attempt to remove his body from this world. No sooner had the animal left, the man breathed his last. 4
That cat would allegedly be amongst the first of his victims.
As a wealthy and highly-regarded local resident, his friends and family paid large sums of money for him to be buried within the holy ground of the church, besides the altar, in the hope of nulling some of his sins. This, it is said, did not work.
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Local people became concerned when spots of blood appeared on the church cloth which hung over his grave. Several soon testified to having heard rambunctious noises coming from his home. Cows were reported as having been found dead, sucked dry, with all the blood gone from their bodies. Chickens were similarly discovered. The buckets which were used to fill up with milk from cows were found full of blood. Some residents even attested to having seen their deceased neighbour gallop through town on a horse.
According to reports, the entire town was in chaos. Dogs howled and barked all night long, and Cuntius’ horses brayed nosily in his stable.5
Before too long, the sightings and reports became more worrying. A wagoneer, with whom the alderman had a personal quarrel with in life, reported being assaulted by Cuntius, even claiming that the dead man had bit him. Women reported being sexually assaulted by him.
In another incident, a child was said to have been so badly bruised by the undead fiend that its bones were made “soft”.6
The people of the town suffered assaults for months and were convinced that they were being plagued by the undead alderman. Thus, they decided to open the tomb where he had been laid to examine his corpse. It is said that they found his body to be perfectly preserved, even reporting that his eyes would open and shut as though he were blinking, and that his hands could grasp a staff tightly when put in them. It seemed that their suspicions had been proven correct – he was indeed a vampire, and thus his corpse must be consigned to the flames.
However, despite being lit upon a pyre, the alderman’s body was reluctant to be burnt. In the end, the executioner had to hack it to pieces so that the fire could more easily devour his flesh. 7
With his body burnt, the assaults are reported as having diminished.
So, was Johannes Cuntius an undead vampire? Many at the time were convinced. Sceptics, on the other hand, may consider this case to be a dismissable piece of folklore, conjured up by illiterate peasants. Equally, a more disturbing explanation could be argued for – that Cuntius, far from being a vampire, was actually still alive, sent into a coma after being hit by his horse. Being placed in a church tomb, rather than buried beneath the soil, there may have been enough ventilation to keep him oxygenated and alive after his presumed passing. After he was found in such a state, and declared an unnatural abomination, a series of fantastical stories could have either been invented or misattributed. Whatever the case, vampire or not, the same miserable conclusion was ultimately reached for poor Cuntius – a butchering upon a burning pyre.
Ultimately, the truth of the matter is unclear. What is certain is that Cuntius was not the only one claimed to be a vampire in history.
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