In today’s world, vampires are commonly associated with the Romanian region of Transylvania thanks to Bram Stoker’s gothic horror novel Dracula. However, there are also vampire stories in other cultures, and one of them comes from Southeast Europe, more specifically from Croatia. It is from this Balkan nation that the story of Jure Grando comes to us, considered the first documented case of vampirism in all of Europe.
According to the chronicles, Jure Grando lived in the small Istrian village of Kringa in the 17th century. Apparently very little is known of Grando’s life, and he may have been no more than a simple peasant before his death. According to some sources he was an unpleasant character. In 1656 Grando died, and it is said that he was buried in the local cemetery by the town priest, Father Giorgio. Shortly after Grando was buried, however, people in the area reported seeing the deceased wandering through the village, and even knocking on the doors of some houses.
Illustration of a vampire ()
According to Carniola natural historian Johann Weichard von Valvasor, people living in the rural areas of the Istrian peninsula believed in a type of vampire known as ‘strigon’. They were believed to be witches who had fed on the blood of children during their lives. When they died, they became undead ‘strigon’, and wandered the villages at midnight. It was also told about the ‘strigon’ who had the habit of knocking on the doors of the houses, and that a few days later some of its residents died without remedy. It seems that Valvasor’s description fits perfectly into Jure Grando’s story, or perhaps is based on it.
Well-known scene from the FW Murnau film ‘Nosferatu’ (1922). ()
Valvasor goes on to state that if any person died during the period in which the ‘strigon’ was seen, the villagers generally believed that they had been eaten by the undead creature. Valvasor also writes that the men of the time believed that the ‘strigon’ had the habit of creeping silently to the bedrooms to get into bed with their women. According to the historian, the peasants also believed that the ‘strigon’ had a preference for widows, especially the youngest and most beautiful.
It was this firm belief in the perverse hobbies of the ‘strigon’ that inspired fear in the peasants, causing them to go looking for him to kill him. In the case of Jure Grando, the ‘first vampire’ is said to have been terrorizing the population for sixteen years before the people of the area took action against him. In 1672, the town’s mayor Miho Radetić recruited a group of brave young men to hunt down Grando and end his reign of terror.
This party, made up of nine men, went to the town cemetery, where they opened Grando’s grave. It is said that these men then saw Grando’s corpse still intact, a fact considered a clear sign of vampirism. In one of the versions of this story, the nine men flee in terror, although they finally pluck up their courage and, led by the mayor, return to Grando’s grave. Then the nine, at the initiative of the priest, who would have been part of the group, try to get rid of the vampire by invoking the name of Jesus Christ. However, this decision seems not to be of much help.
The group then tries driving a wooden stake into the vampire’s belly. This didn’t work either, as the stake couldn’t pierce the undead’s flesh. Finally, one of the men, named Stephen Milašić according to one of the versions, decapitates Grando with an axe. It is said that at that moment the vampire screamed and blood gushed out from his neck. The nine men then covered the grave with dirt again, and that was the end of Jure Grando.
In a way, Croatian vampire Jure Grando isn’t quite dead yet. In 2006 it was reported that the Kringans were working to resurrect the legend of Jure Grando. For the people who inhabit the town today, the vampire is not so much a terrifying being as a source of income, since they hope that his story will attract tourists to the town.