About a year ago, I had the pleasure of editing an article on body farms written by Tom Scheve. In it, Tom explains in nitty-gritty detail what happens to your body after you die. So while I'm prepared for the ghastly visual and olfactory display of a days-old corpse (thanks, Tom!), our medieval ancestors were not.
A recent story out of Rome reports that Italians in the throes of a 16th-century plague were horrified by mass graves of bloated bodies leaking blood from their mouths. What's more, while their faces were covered with shrouds, they'd mysteriously worn holes through the portion of cloth that covered their mouths. According to Reuters, modern science has a simple explanation for holey shrouds: gas and bacteria in the corpses' mouths were strong enough to eat through the cloth. But for gravediggers who uncovered mass graves to deposit more plague victims, it was a frightening sight to see a bloody-mouthed body with a gaping hole in its shroud.
Gravediggers jumped to the conclusion that these "shroud-eaters" were members of the undead -- vampires whose fattened bodies attested to the fact that they were feasting off blood and their own shrouds. Medieval texts claim that these vampires were helping spread the plague so their race could propagate. It was up to a gravedigger or a priest to stop the vampire by jamming a rock or brick into its mouth.
So what can we conclude from the report? Well, it's based on a 2006 archaeological discovery of a female corpse with a brick wedged in her mouth. Now, scientists can affirm that our medieval friends really believed in vampires. Forensic archaeologist Matteo Borrini says, "For the first time, we have found evidence of an exorcism against a vampire."
There you have it. People used to believe in vampires.