The legend of the vampire as we understand it today got its start in the Slavic part of Europe, where there are many local monster legends that behave in what we think of as typically vampiric ways. A lot of these powers and characteristics became bound up in the stories about an infamously cruel leader of Transylvania, Vlad the Impaler, especially after the English author, Bram Stoker, borrowed one of Vlad’s nicknames for the vampire in his famous novel Dracula.
As vampires rose in prominence in the Western imagination, so did the traits of Dracula himself— the fangs, the sensitivity to sunlight, the desire to sleep in a coffin full of dirt from his homeland, and the ability to turn into a bat. Perhaps that is why this old grave is rumored to contain one who was thought to be a vampire.
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This strange stone monument lies in the graveyard around St. Aidan’s church, in the village of Billinge outside Liverpool, England. A coffin-shaped tomb, the aged inscription is faded, but it features a prominent carving of a skull surrounded by the wings of a bat.
According to local legend, this tomb holds a vampire. This legend likely arose due to the bat wings. But does it hold water?
In fact, this skull-with-wings iconography was a popular symbol to use on headstones throughout the 1700s in both England and America. They were used by people of any faith, but particularly by Puritans, for whom it was thought inappropriate to put religious iconography like a cross onto the stone. The death’s head and wings were supposed to symbolize the fleeting nature of life as compared to the everlasting nature of the soul, or the soul’s ascent to heaven.
But as Dracula and its vampiric bat connection was not published until 1897, which may have been as much as a hundred years later, it is unlikely the people who carved this stone gave any thoughts to vampires.
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