Dusty Digital Tomes Series: Hieronyma’s Poltergeist
Article By: Michelle Belanger
This curious case, identified as demonic in nature, nevertheless contains the hallmarks typically attributed to poltergeist cases. It was recorded in the work “Demoniality” by Father Ludovico Sinistrari and published in the late 1600s.
Sinistrari’s work is primarily concerned with the existence of incubus and succubus demons. In building his case for the existence of such spirits, Sinistrari gathered a number of reports — mainly anecdotal — of incidents involving entities which he believed fit his definition of either incubus or succubus demons. One of his “cases” — I have to use the term lightly as it is received second-hand and has no documentation to back it up — involves a young woman of Pavia afflicted by an amorous spirit. As Sinistrari was writing in the late 1600s, the events events likely date to between 1660 and 1670. I’ve excerpted Sinistrari’s full retelling of the incident here, for my readers’ perusal and judgment:
On the Incubus Demon, p. 36:
A most marvellous and well nigh incomprehensible fact: the Incubi whom the Italians call Folletti, the Spaniards Duendes, the French Follets, do not obey the Exorcists, have no dread of exorcisms, no reverence for holy things, at the approach of which they are not in the least overawed; very different in that respect from the Demons who vex those whom they possess …
The Strange Case of the Lady Hiernonyma, pp. 37- 53:
About twenty-five years ago, when I was a lecturer on Sacred Theology in the convent of the Holy Cross, in Pavia, there was living in the city a married woman of unimpeachable morality, and who was most highly spoke of by all such as knew her, especially by the Friars; her name was Hieronyma, and she lived in the parish of S. Michael. One day, this woman had kneaded bread at home and given it out to bake. The oven-man brought her back her loaves when baked, and with them a large cake of a peculiar shape, and made of butter and Venetian paste, as is usual in that city. She declined to take it in, saying she had not made any thing of that kind. –
“But,” said the oven-man, “I had no other bread but yours to bake to-day, therefore this cake also must have come from your house; your memory is at fault.” The good lady allowed herself to be persuaded, and partook of the cake with her husband, her little girl three years old, and the house servant. The next night, whilst in bed with her husband, and both asleep, she suddenyl woke up at the sound of a very slender voice, something like a shrill hissing, whispering in her ears, yet with great distinctness, and inquiring whether “the cake had been to her taste?”
The good lady, frightened, set about guarding herself with a sign of the cross and repeatedly calling the names of Jesus and Mary. “Be not afraid,” said the voice. “I mean you no harm; quite the reverse: I am prepared to do anything to please you; I am captivated by your beauty and desire nothing more than to enjoy your embraces.” And she felt someone kissing her cheeks, so lightly, so softly, that she might have fancied being grazed by the finest down. She resisted without giving any answer, merely repeating over and over again the names of Jesus and Mary, and crossing herself; the tempter kept on thus for nearly half and hour, when he withdrew …
…he appeared in the shape of a lad or little man of great beauty, with golden locks, a flaxen beard that shone like gold, sea-green eyes calling to ming the flax-flower, and arrayed in a fancy Spanish dress. Besides he appeared to her even when in company, whimpering, after the fashion of lovers, kissing his hand to her, and endeavoring by every means to obtain her embraces. She alone saw and heard him; for every body else, he was not to be seen.
…after some months of courting, the Incubus, incensed at her disdain, had recourse to a new kind of persecution. First, he took away from her a silver cross filled with holy relics, and a holy wax or papal lamb of the blessed Pontiff Pius V, which she always carried on her person; then, leaving the locks untouched, he purloined her rings and other gold and silver jewelry from the casket wherein they were put away. Next, he began to strike her cruelly, and after each beating bruises and marks were to be seen on her face, her arms or other parts of her body, which lasted a day or two, then suddenly disappeared, the reverse of natural bruises which decrease slowly and by degrees.
Sometimes, while she was nursing her little girl, he would snatch the child away from on her breast and lay it upon the roof, on the edge of the gutter, or hide it, but without ever harming it. Sometimes he would upset all the furniture, or smash to pieces saucepans, plates and other earthenware which, in the twinkling of an eye, he restored to their former state. One night that she was lying with her husband, the Incubus, appearing in his customary shape, vehemently urged his demand which she resisted as usual. The Incubus withdrew in a rage, and shortly came back with a large load of those flag stones which the Genoese, and the inhabitants of Liguria in general, use for roofing their houses. With those stones he built around the bed a wall so high that it reached the tester, and that the couple could not leave their bed without using a ladder. This wall however was built up without lime; when pulled down, the flags were laid by in a corner where, during two days, they were seen by many who came to look at them; they then disappeared.
On S. Stephen’s day, the husband has asked some military friends to dinner, and to do honor to his guests, ahd provided a substantial repast. Whilst they were, as customary, washing their hands before taking their seats, suddenly vanished the table dressed in the dining-room; all the dishes, saucepans, kettles, plates and crockery in the kitchen vanished likewise, as well as the jugs, bottles, and glasses. You may imagine the surprise, the stupor of the guests, eight in number; amongst them was a Spanish Captain of infantry, who, addressing the company said to them: “Do not be frightened, it is but a trick. The table is certainly still where it stood, and I shall soon find it by feeling for it.”
Having thus spoken, he paced round the room with outstretched arms, endeavoring to lay hold of the table; but when, after many circuitous perambulations, it was apparent that he laboured in vain and grasped nought but thin air, he was laughed at by his friends; and it being already high time for having dinner, each guest took up his cloak and set about to return home. The had already reached the street-door with the husband who, out of politeness, was attending them, when they head a great noise in the dinner-room: they stood to ascertain the cause thereof, and presently the servant came up to announce that the kitchen was stocked with new vessels filled with food, and that the table was standing again in its former place. Having gone back to the dining-room, they were stupefied to see the table was laid, with cloths, napkins, salt-cellars, and trays that did not belong to the house, and with food which had not been cooked there. On a large sideboard all were arrayed in perfect order crystal, silver and gold chalices, …
Further: on the feast of St. Michael, as the woman was going to church after having vowed to wear a simple gray frock tied at the waist with a rope for a year in the hope of staving off the advances of her Incubus, at the very threshold of the church in front of a crowd of people her cloths & ornaments “fell off to the ground and disappeared in a gust of wind, leaving her stark naked.” The lady’s modesty was barely save by a couple of maturely aged cavaliers who offered her their cloaks and helped convey her to a vehicle to take her home. “The clothes and trinkets taken by the Incubus were not restored by him before six months had elapsed.”
The torment went on for a number of years and nothing the lady would do seemed to have the least impact on her tormentor. Eventually, however, she seems to have outlasted him in patience, for eventually the activity subsided and he troubled her no more.