Hieronyma and Her Incubus

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.

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The Massacre of the Albertis

The town of Pentedattilo. (Image source/credit here.)

The town of Pentedattilo. (Image source/credit here.)

Located in the southern Italian region of Calabria, Pentedattilo is a ghost town with a very interesting history. Its name, which means “five fingers”, refers to a mountain located around the town. Before an earthquake disfigured it in 1783, the mountain had five rock towers that resembled a human hand with fingers. Local legend held that the mountain, nicknamed the Devil’s Hand, would one day collapse and fall on mankind. This curse was said to have been cast by Lorenzo Alberti, one of the victims of an infamous historical incident known as The Massacre of the Albertis.

In 1686, Baron Bernardino Abenavoli fell in love with Antoinette Alberti, the daughter of the family that had owned the fiefdom of Pentedattilo since the late 16th century. The Abenavolis, the former lords of Pentedattilo, had been in a rivalry with the Alberti family ever since. Due to this feud, Antoinette had little interest in Bernardino. When it was announced in April that Antoinette would be marrying Don Petrillo Cortez, the son of the Viceroy of Naples, Bernardino was struck with rage.

Picture of Pentedattilo. (Image source/credit here.)

Picture of Pentedattilo. (Image source/credit here.)

On the night of April 21, Bernardino carried out a horrific plan for revenge. After bribing one of the Alberti family’s servants, Bernardino was let inside their castle with a group of his followers. Their first victim was Lorenzo, Antoinette’s brother and the head of the Albertis. As he was sleeping in his bedroom, Lorenzo was ambushed by Bernardino and then shot and stabbed to death. With the exception of Antoinette, the Alberti family and most of their guests were all massacred, including Antoinette’s 9-year-old brother Simone, who had his head bashed against a rock.

Don Petrillo Cortez and his family were spared as well, but they were taken by Bernardino as hostages. On April 19, Bernardino married Antoinette.  Word of the massacre spread quickly, however, and Cortez’s father sent a military expedition to capture Bernardino and his collaborators a few days later.  Although 7 of Bernardino’s men were captured and beheaded, including the servant who let them into the Alberti castle, Bernardino managed to escape to Malta. He later joined the Austrian army, and died on the battlefield in 1692. Antoinette, filled with grief that she was the cause of the massacre, spent the rest of her life as a nun.

Ruins of the Alberti castle. (Image source/ credit here.)

Ruins of the Alberti castle. (Image source/ credit here.)

Now even though Lorenzo Alberti died in his castle, the town’s folklore says that he was killed near the rock walls of the mountain. As he laid dying, Lorenzo pushed his bloody hand against the walls, leaving a permanent imprint that glowed red when the sun went down. On some nights, his screams can be heard coming from the mountain. On the anniversary of the massacre, shadows of the victims are said to appear all over the town, running from other shadows that chase them with knives.

Another legend related to the massacre and the mountain’s disfigurement involves a secret treasure allegedly left behind by Bernardino Abenavoli. One night, a ghost told a knight who was passing by the mountain that the five fingers would collapse and reveal the Abenavoli treasure if somebody would run around the mountain five times. Many people tried running around the mountain, but it never collapsed. A knight from Sicily heard about the challenge and decided to give it a try. Right as he was about to finish his fifth lap, one of the fingers suddenly fell off the mountain and crushed him.

Following an earthquake in 1783, a lot of the townspeople left Pentedattilo for the town of Melito Porto Salvo. Pentedattilo was completely abandoned by the 1960s, although today it hosts the site of an annual international film festival.