Hieronyma and Her Incubus


An 1879 painting of an incubus.

The 17th century priest Ludovico Maria Sinistrari was a thinker who tackled some of the most pressing questions of his time. Could demons and humans, for example, have sex? Could they have children? Theologically-speaking, which is the greater evil: carnal knowledge of the family dog, or screwing a succubus? If you’re one of the half-dozen people who lay in bed at night pondering such enigmas, then boy does Father Sinistrari have a book for you!

Sinistrari, an Inquisition-associated writer, concerned himself with what the Catholic Church regarded as sinful sexuality. His work touches on homosexuality, sodomy, and demoniality, the act of sexual intercourse between a person and a demon. Sinistrari’s treatise on that last subject, Demoniality, is a bit mysterious. It was probably written in the late 1690s, but its manuscript wasn’t discovered until 1872, when the French publisher Isidore Liseux bought it from an English bookseller. (Some scholars have argued the treatise is a forgery, but the academic Alexandra Nagel makes a good case for its authenticity in a research paper available here.)

Essentially, Demoniality claims that demons like incubuses and succubuses are real, and similar to humans. It’s entirely possible, and considerably sinful, to have sex with one. It’s also possible to have children with such demons; Alexander the Great, Martin Luther, and Plato were all the result of demon-human elopements. While there’s a lot of theological theorizing- including the contemplation of demon semen- Sinistrari also discusses some case studies. In one particular story about a woman and an incubus, Sinistrari claim that he was an eye-witness, and that he interviewed “numerous persons” to corroborate the account.

Some twenty-five years before he wrote Demoniality, Sinistrari says that he worked as a lecturer in the city of Pavia. During that same time, there was a “married woman of unimpeachable morality” named Hieronyma who also lived in the city. One day, Hieronyma kneaded some bread and gave it to a baker to finish off. After baking it in the oven, the man dropped the bread off at Hieronyma’s house, along with a “large cake of peculiar shape” she didn’t remember giving him. Since the baker didn’t bake any other customers’ bread that day, he insisted the cake must have been Hieronyma’s. Hieronyma was easily convinced to take the cake, and she later ate it with her daughter, husband, and servant.

The next night, Hieronyma was sleeping in bed with her husband when a shrill voice woke her up and whispered in her ear, asking her how she liked the cake. Spooked, Hieronyma made the sign of the cross and called out the names of Jesus and Mary, but the voice still wouldn’t shut up. “I am prepared to do any thing to please you,” it crooned, “I am captivated by your beauty, and desire nothing more than to enjoy your embraces.” For the next half-hour or so, as she chanted the names of Jesus and Mary to defend herself, Hieronyma felt an invisible force kissing her cheeks.

In the morning, presumably while her husband continued to sleep like a log, Hieronyma visited her confessor and revealed what happened. The confessor recommended that Hieronyma protect herself with holy relics, but when the incubus continued to kiss and sweet-talk Hieronyma night after night, a full-fledged exorcism was arranged. A group of holy-men exorcised Hieronyma herself, and just to be sure everything was demon-free, also blessed her bed, bedroom, and house.


Still, the incubus was determined to woo Hieronyma. The exorcism failed, and the demon began to appear as a young man, with golden locks of hair and beautiful green eyes. Whenever Hieronyma had company, the incubus would crash the party, kissing her hand and pledging his eternal love. “She alone saw and heard him,” Sinistrari notes, “for every body else, he was not to be seen.”

Increasingly, the incubus lost his patience, and figured more drastic measures were needed to seduce Hieronyma. He would steal Hieronyma holy relics and jewelry, and attack her as well, leaving bruises on her body that would disappear after only a day or two. Other times, while Hieronyma was nursing her daughter, the incubus would snatch the poor babe and hide her on the roof. (After all, what better way to win somebody’s heart than kidnapping their child?)

When beatings and kidnapping failed to turn Hieronyma on, the incubus decided to up the ante again. In one nightly incident, after being rejected by Hieronyma for the umpteenth time, the incubus built a wall around Hieronyma and her husband’s bed. The impromptu wall was so high, according to Sinistrari, that the couple actually needed a ladder to get over it. Fortunately, the incubus was as poor a builder as seducer, and the wall was easily broken apart. For a while, the parts were stashed in a corner, where “they were seen by many who came to look at them,” before inexplicably disappearing.

In another notable episode, Hieronyma’s husband held a dinner party for a bunch of military friends on St. Stephen’s Day. The servants had everything ready to go, when the dinner table, along with all the bottles, dishes, glasses, kettles, jugs, and saucepans,  disappeared into thin air. One of the guests, suspecting the disappearances to be a trick, searched around the room for the table to no avail. Confused and hungry, the guests were escorted to the front door, where they suddenly heard a loud noise coming from the dining-room.

Just then, a servant came to the guests and said that the table had been mysteriously replaced, and all the food in the kitchen swapped with exotic wine and elaborate dishes. Understandably, a couple of the guests were a bit hesitant about eating food that spontaneously appeared out of nowhere. When everybody finally had a taste though, all agreed it was delicious. Once the feast was over, the dishes and food vanished before the party-goers’ eyes, and the food that had been missing reappeared.

Following the most perplexing St. Stephen’s Day ever, Sinistrari mentions one more chapter in the one-sided romance of Hieronyma and her incubus. One morning, after many more months of dealing with the demon, Hieronyma went walking to church dressed like Bernardine of Feltre, a friar worshiped by her local church. The moment Hieronyma reached the church, “her clothes and ornaments fell off to the ground, and disappeared in a gust of wind, leaving her stark naked.” Immediately, two chivalrous chevaliers sprang into action, covered Hieronyma with their cloaks, and rushed her home.

“I might relate many other most surprising tricks which the Incubus played on her,” Sinistrari concludes,”were it not wearisome. Suffice it to say that, for a number of years he persevered in his temptation of her, but that finding at last that he was losing his pains, he desisted from his vexatious importunities.” With the advent of Tinder and other such things, I hope the incubus is doing better for himself these days.

Be sure to check out more offbeat stories of crime, folklore, and history in my e-book, 20 Unsolved Mysteries of Japan, available on Amazon for Kindle. 


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