Sunday 25 December 2011

A Christmas Card

With the above look at part of a postcard from Freihermersdorf, I wish readers of this blog a merry christmas.

This was the site of the exhumation and cremation of several bodies suspected of posthumous magic in the winter of 1754-55. When news of the events arrived in Vienna, the court of Maria Theresa sent two prominents physicians, Wabst and Gasser, to investigate. Their report on this and similar incidents in the vicinity of Olomouc (Olmütz) led to Gerard van Swieten's famous commentaries on vampirism and the Empress' proscription of the superstitious handling of corpses.

Some years ago I spent a lot of time perusing texts and maps to locate Herm(er)sdorf. At the time not an easy task, because texts tend to only mention an approximate position, and there are more than one place that has been called something like Hermersdorf. Unfortunately, this uncertainty is also found in as recent a work as Anja Lauper's Die phantastische Seuche. Lauper follows Heiko Haumann'a opinion that Hermersdorf must be Temenice, today a part of Šumperk (in German Mährisch Schönberg) in Northern Moravia.

Haumann actually just states his opinion in a note ('Bei Hermesdorf handelt es sich vermutlich um ein Dorf bei Mährisch-Schönberg, das Heute Temenice heißt und mit Sumperk zusammengewachsen ist), adding that the research was done by Thomas Bürgisser. (Zeitschrift für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde 28 (2005) 1, p. 8)

Bernard Unterholzner, on the other hand, in his paper on the incident in Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie, clearly identifies Hermersdorf as Svobodné Hermanice: 'Bei dem Ort in Oberschlesien, nahe der mährischen Grenze, handelte es sich um das heutige Svobodné Hermanice, das rund zehn Kilometer westlich von Opava liegt.' (p. 91)

Suffice it to say, it can be proved beyond doubt that Hermersdorf was Svobodné Hermanice, later on known as Freihermersdorf. In fact, if you look at other villages and towns associated with incidents of posthumous magic in the areas near Olomouc/Olmütz and Bruntál/Freudenthal, many of them are situated within a relatively small part of present day Poland and Czech Republic. E.g. just some ten kilometers to the North East you find Velké Heraltice (Groß Herrlitz), and some fifty kilometers to the South West Moravsky Beroun (Bärn) that I recently mentioned in a post on the term vampertione infecta. Both sites of the exhumation and destruction of bodies suspected of harming the living.

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