Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/222

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

determined to bury him alive in order to appease the demon of the plague. He escaped this horrible death only by apparently acceding to their wishes and craving a few days' respite in order to prepare for such a solemn ceremony; meanwhile he took the measures necessary to secure his safety and thwarted the purpose of his loving parishioners. In Okopovitchi, a village of the same province, the peasants succeeded in enticing an aged woman, Lucia Manjkov, into the cemetery, where they thrust her alive into the grave containing the bodies of those who had died of the epidemic, and quickly covered her up. When brought to trial they proved that they had acted on the advice of a military surgeon, Kosakovitch, who was therefore regarded as the chief culprit, and sentenced to be knout ed by the hangman, and then to undergo twelve years' penal servitude in Siberia. We are indebted for these instances of barbarous superstition to the researches of Augustus Löwenstimm, associate jurisconsult in the department of justice at St. Petersburg, who has derived them from thoroughly authentic and mostly official sources. He reports several occurrences of a similar kind during the epidemics of cholera in 1831, 1855, and 1872. Indeed, it is very difficult to abolish such pagan practices so long as the clergy foster the notion that animal sacrifices are expiatory and propitiatory in their effects. In some parts of the province of Vologda it is still customary on the day dedicated to the prophet Elias (July 20th in the Greek calendar) to offer up bullocks, he-goats, or other quadrupeds within the precincts of the church. The animal is driven into the courtyard surrounding the sacred edifice and there slaughtered; the flesh is boiled in a large kettle, one half of it being kept by the peasants who provide the sacrifice, while the other half is distributed among the priests and sacristans.[1]

The belief that the walls of dams, bridges, aqueducts, and buildings are rendered preternaturally strong by immuring a living human being within them still prevails in many countries of Christendom, and there is hardly an old castle in Europe that has not a legend of this sort connected with it. Usually a child is supposed to be selected for this purpose, and the roving bands of gypsies are popularly accused of furnishing the infant victims. The custom of depositing gold coins or other precious objects in the foundation stones of important public edifices is doubtless a survival of the ancient superstition.[2]

  1. Löwenstimm's studies, printed originally in the Journal of the Ministry of Justice in St. Petersburg, have been made accessible to a larger class of readers by being collected and translated into German in a volume entitled Aberglaube und Strafrecht (Berlin: Rade, 1897), with an introduction by Prof. Joseph Kohler, of the University of Berlin.
  2. As the Siberian Railway approached the northern boundaries of the Chinese Empire and surveys were made for its extension through Manchuria to the sea, great excitement