Before Twilight

Despite the summer with its long, languid days, The Telegraph reported on vampires last week. In an article entitled “Polish archaeologists unearth ‘vampire grave,’” Matthew Day narrates how archaeologists have uncovered skeletons buried with their heads—decapitated, obviously—on their legs. This was apparently a not uncommon medieval practice for ensuring that suspected vampires stayed safely in their graves. Interestingly enough, Day comments that the practice mainly began after the Christianization of the pagan cultures that had preceded them. Even pagans, he suggests, ran the risk of being accused of vampirism, a broadly defined threat in the Middle Ages. Of course, the Twilight series had not been written then so that the safe, Mormon cast of vampire was unknown.

Vampires represented a couple of concepts terrifying to people before the scientific revolution: they were a source of draining an individual of some life essence, and they were the problematic undead. The decapitation, in Tim Burton-Sleepy Hollow style, was intended to prevent the vampire from being able to locate its head after death. Unable to find the business end of its vampiristic corpus, the undead might remain just plain dead. Of course, staking works, if the tales of the Highgate vampire, near whose grave I recently stayed while in London, are to be believed.

The belief in vampires, or at least fascination with them, has been very hard to shake. One of the earliest horror films made was Nosferatu, a rip-off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that was nearly obliterated because of copyright violations. Nosferatu continues to be ranked among the scariest of horror movies, and the Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake is a classic in its own right. The Shadow of the Vampire was an even more recent movie about the filming of the F. W. Murnau original. Among the earliest of the Universal monster movies was Tod Browning’s Dracula, which forever identified the face of Bela Lugosi with the infamous Count. No matter how deeply we bury them, the vampires keep coming back to stalk our nights and nightmares. When future archaeologists uncover the detritus of our civilization, no doubt they will conclude that we too, in a secularized world, feared the undead.


Jesus Gets a Head

Sunday newspapers often contain stories calculated to appeal to the purveyor of the unusual in addition to the usual current events. When my wife pointed out an article in yesterday’s paper about the new (unverified) tallest statue of Jesus in the world, I was instantly intrigued. A Polish priest by the name of Sylwester Zawadzki created the statue which tips the yardstick at somewhere between 108 and 167 feet (a little triangulation might be helpful here). Noting that Rio de Janeiro’s Jesus is 125 feet tall, some are claiming this as the largest Jesus in the world. According to the article, some Poles feel the statue is tacky and in bad taste. Others rejoice that a very large likeness of what Jesus may have looked like now overlooks Swiebodzin.

Religions frequently display their colors. Knocking down crosses for crescent moons or stars of David for crosses is a religious activity as old as monotheism itself. Zawadzki claims that he was called by Jesus to do this task. According to the Gospels, Jesus seemed to focus more on his message than on himself, but the two have become so intricately knotted that the Jesus icon has come to stand for everything from preserving fetuses to longhair free-lovefests. What Jesus is depends on the eye of the beholder. As the gold-crowned head was lifted by crane onto the awaiting shoulders, a cross was lifted from the shoulders of Zawadzki who expressed thanks at having been able to fulfill God’s will.

Construction workers gathered at the base of the statue for photos, wearing safety helmets. Working on Jesus, like any construction zone, can be hazardous. If it is the will of Jesus to have enormous statues erected in this faithless world, are safety helmets really necessary? It is all a matter of perspective. Many people in the world are in need. Many do not have the resources they need to survive. Where is the triumph here? I understand the artistic urge, I sympathize with the need to stand out. But is the will of Jesus to be represented in larger and larger formats, or is it to help those who feel physical need day by day?