Tuesday, October 1, 2019

How the Prolific Serial Killer Countess Elizabeth Bathory Fits Into a Feast of the Orthodox Church

Portrait of Countess Elizabeth Bathory

In August of 1581 the Russian city of Pskov was held under siege by the Polish king. On August 27th of that year the Virgin Mary appeared in a vision to a holy elder and blacksmith named Dorotheus, and she informed him that the siege was taking place due to the sins of the people of Pskov. When he interceded on behalf of the city, and the people repented and processed a miraculous icon of the Holy Virgin along the city wall for the days leading up to the battle, the Mother of God forgave the people and protected the city from the invading Polish king. To commemorate this event and the deliverance of the city, an icon was painted called the Pskov-Pechersk Icon, and to honor her Protection over the city, the feast was established for October 1st, which is the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God.

So how does Countess Elizabeth Bathory, alleged to be the most prolific female serial killer in history, fit into this story? The Polish king mentioned above was Stephen Bathory, the uncle of Elizabeth Bathory. Elizabeth's mother was Baroness Anna Bathory (1539–1570), daughter of Stephen Bathory of Somlyo, a voivode of Transylvania. Through her mother, Elizabeth was the niece of the Hungarian noble Stephen Bathory (1533–1586), the king of Poland and the grand duke of Lithuania of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the prince of Transylvania. This is the Stephen Bathory mentioned in the story above. Her older brother was also named Stephen Bathory (1555–1605), who became a judge royal of Hungary.

Copy of a portrait of Stephen Bathory, King of Poland

During Elizabeth's childhood she suffered multiple seizures that may have been caused by epilepsy, possibly stemming from the inbreeding of her parents. This leads to the speculation that Elizabeth's killings during her later life were part of her efforts to cure the illness she had been suffering from since she was a young child; however, there is no hard evidence supporting the speculation. Elizabeth was raised a Calvinist Protestant. As a young woman, she learned Latin, German, Hungarian, and Greek. Born into a privileged family of nobility, Elizabeth was endowed with wealth, education, and a stellar social position.

She has been labeled by Guinness World Records as the most prolific female murderer, though the precise number of her victims is debated. Bathory and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of young women between 1585 and 1609. The highest number of victims cited during Bathory's trial was 650. However, this number comes from the claim by a serving girl named Susannah that Jakab Szilvassy, Countess Bathory's court official, had seen the figure in one of Bathory's private books. The book was never revealed, and Szilvassy never mentioned it in his testimony. Despite the evidence against Elizabeth, her family's importance kept her from facing execution. She was imprisoned in December 1610 within Cachtice Castle, in Upper Hungary (now Slovakia), and held in solitary confinement in a windowless room until her death four years later.

She was buried in the church of Cachtice on 25 November 1614, but according to some sources due to the villagers' uproar over having the Blood Countess buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it was interred at the Bathory family crypt. The location of her body today is unknown. Cachtice church or Cachtice castle do not bear any markings of her possible grave.