Capuchin Catacombs

Destination 11: Capuchin Catacombs


“Found on the outer limits of the city, the Capuchin catacombs hold the remains of over 8000 souls, their disembodied shells propped up against the walls or resting in open caskets. Down in the cold, dry basement of the monastery, the relentless march of decomposition takes its sweet time. Though some bodies have been reduced to skulls and bones, the majority of corpses are still rotting, and their half-decomposed husks are the stuff of nightmares.”

The state of decomposition in the Capuchin catacombs parallels that of Mercy Brown: one of the most infamous cases of the exhumation of a corpse in order to perform rituals to banish the undead. Details of the Mercy Brown vampire incident may be found here. For purposes of this post, it is important to know that the proceedings of 1892 Rhode Island in part inspired the creation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Related Film (novel): Dracula (1897)


Inspired by Lord Byron’s Fragment of a Novel (1819), John Polidori’s novella, The Vampyre, introduces the mysterious Lord Ruthven and his interludes with Aubrey around Europe. In Greece, Ruthven is mortally wounded when the pair is attacked by bandits. Before he dies, Ruthven makes Aubrey swear an oath that he will not mention his death for a year and a day. Aubrey returns to London and is astounded when Ruthven reappears seemingly unharmed.

Aubrey soon realizes that everyone whom Ruthven meets ends up suffering. Aubrey’s discovery exposes Ruthven’s deceitfulness as evidenced by his repeated lying and conning others for personal pleasure. As he seduces Aubrey’s sister, Aubrey is rendered helpless when Ruthven reminds him of his oath. Ruthven and Aubrey’s sister are engaged to marry on the day the oath ends. Just before he dies, Aubrey writes a letter to his sister revealing Ruthven’s history, but it does not arrive before the wedding vows. On the wedding night, the new bride is discovered dead having been drained of her blood with Ruthven having mysteriously vanished.

How it relates to the field of psychiatry [1]

The origins of one of the greatest myths depicting Antisocial personality Disorder: The Mercy Brown vampire incident, John Polidori’s novella, and texts such as An Extraordinary and Shocking History of a Great Berserker Called Prince Dracula served as inspiration for Abraham “Bram” Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker’s working papers for Dracula were discovered in the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, confirming that he knew about the existence of the “Voivode Dracula,” with Stoker subsequently changing his vampire-creation’s original name, Count Wampyr, to “Dracula” after reading An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia.

In 1389, Mehmed II sent 10,000 cavalry to defeat Vlad III when Vlad refused to pay “jizya” (tax) to the sultan. Passing through a narrow pass north of Giurgiu, Vlad launched a surprise attack, surrounding the Turks and capturing thousands. Vlad’s military tactics serve to teach trainees that while not all violence rises to the level of antisocial personality, even in times of war, it is by no means necessary that “combatants exhibit abnormalities of personality.” Such is the case with Vlad III who upon impaling thousands of the Sultan’s men on wooden stakes, became known as Vlad the Impaler. In Stoker’s novel, this battle is referenced by Van Helsing when describing Count Dracula, “He must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land.” Following the killing of Mehmed II, Vlad III wrote to Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. His letter illustrates his lack of remorse in committing these heinous acts:

I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers.


  1. Tobia, A., Katsamanis, Draschil, T., Sportelli, D., M., Williams, J. The Horror!: A Creative Framework to Teach Psychopathology Via Metaphorical Analyses of Horror Films, Academic Psychiatry, March/April, 2013

Anthony Tobia, MD. Copyright © 2018 Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. All rights reserved.

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