St Stanislaus and the dead man in his grave

“The condition was accepted mockingly, as a thing impossible to be executed.”

Editors’ Notes

The narrative below comes from the very colourful text The Phantom World, by Dom Augustin Calmet, published first in 1746 and revised in 1751. This interesting work looks at accounts of vampires and other mythical creatures, and considers various possible explanations for their hypothetical existence.

At the start of Vol. II, Calmet considers different ways in which a man might return from the dead. In sparse but dramatic detail – whilst reserving his own judgment – he gives us this striking story of St Stanislaus. St Stanislaus was an eleventh century Polish bishop who was martyred due to his opposition to King Bolesław. There are some similarities with our own St Thomas Becket of Canterbury – and he could be said to have been martyred for the liberty of the Church and the rights of Christ the King.

The English text was translated by the hostile Rev. Henry Christmas, who believed that the accounts which Calmet included demonstrated the superstitions of “popery” – even while praising Calmet for his own diligence and learning. As such, we are not recommending the text itself.

Nonetheless, we see nothing superstitious about stories like that given below. Without being more bound to believe them than Dom Calmet, we should feel free to see in them the glory of God and his power over death.

The Phantom World
The History and Philosophy of Spirits, Apparitions, etc., Vol. II

Dom Augustine Calmet
Trans. Rev. Henry Christmas 1850

Photo by Nghia Do Thanh on Unsplash

All the lives of the saints are full of resurrections of the dead; thick volumes might be composed on the subject.

These resurrections have a manifest relation to the matter which we are here treating of, since it relates to persons who are dead, or held to be so, who appear bodily and animated to the living, and who live after their return to life. I shall content myself with relating the history of St. Stanislaus, Bishop of Cracow, who restored to life a man that had been dead for three years, attended by such singular circumstances, and in so public a manner, that the thing is beyond the severest criticism.

If it is really true, it must be regarded as one of the most unheard of miracles which are read of in history. They assert that the life of this saint was written either at the time of martyrdom,[1] or a short time afterwards, by different well-informed authors; for the martyrdom of the saint, and, above all, the restoration to life of the dead man of whom we are about to speak, were seen and known by an infinite number of persons, by all the court of king Boleslaus. And this event having taken place in Poland, where vampires are frequently met with even in our days, it concerns, for that reason, more particularly the subject we are treating.

The Dispute

The bishop, St. Stanislaus, having bought of a gentleman, named Pierre, an estate situated on the banks of the Vistula, in the territory of Lublin, for the profit of his church at Cracow, gave the price of it to the seller, in the presence of witnesses, and with the solemnities requisite in that country, but without written deeds, for they then wrote but seldom in Poland on the occasion of sales of this kind; they contented themselves with having witnesses. Stanislaus took possession of this estate by the king’s authority, and his church enjoyed it peaceably for about three years.

In the interim, Pierre, who had sold it, happened to die. The king of Poland, Boleslaus, who had conceived an implacable hatred against the holy bishop, because he had freely reproved him for his excesses, seeking occasion to cause him trouble, excited against him the three sons of Pierre, and his heirs, and told them to claim the estate which their father had sold, on pretence of its not having been paid for. He promised to support their demand, and to cause it to be restored to them.

Thus these three gentlemen had the bishop cited to appear before the king, who was then at Solech, occupied in rendering justice under some tents in the country, according to the ancient custom of the land, in the general assembly of the nation. The bishop was cited before the king, and maintained that he had bought and paid for the estate in question. The day was beginning to close, and the bishop ran great risk of being condemned by the king and his counselors.

Suddenly, as if inspired by the Divine Spirit, he promised the king to bring him in three days Pierre, of whom he had bought it, and the condition was accepted mockingly, as a thing impossible to be executed.

St Stanislaus goes to the tomb

The holy bishop repairs to Pictravin, remains in prayer, and keeps fast with his household for three days; on the third day he goes in his pontifical robes, accompanied by his clergy and a multitude of people, causes the grave-stone to be raised, and makes them dig until they found the corpse of the defunct all fleshless and corrupted.

The saint commands him to come forth and bear witness to the truth before the king’s tribunal.

He rises; they cover him with a cloak; the saint takes him by the hand, and leads him alive to the feet of the king.

No one had the boldness to interrogate him; but he took the word, and declared that he had in good faith sold the estate to the prelate, and that he had received the value of it; after which he severely reprimanded his sons, who had so maliciously accused the holy bishop.

Stanislaus asked Pierre if he wished to remain alive to do penance. He thanked him, and said he would not anew expose himself to the danger of sinning. Stanislaus reconducted him to his tomb, and being arrived there, he again fell asleep in the Lord.

It may be supposed that such a scene had an infinite number of witnesses, and that all Poland was quickly informed of it.

The fate of St Stanislaus

The king was only the more irritated against the saint. He some time after killed him with his own hand, as he was coming from the altar, and had his body cut into seventy-two parts, in order that they might never more be collected together in order to pay them the worship which was due to them as the body of a martyr for the truth and for pastoral liberty.

St Stanislaus – Pray for us!


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[1] The reverend fathers the Bollandists, believed that the life of St. Stanislaus, which they had printed, was very old, and nearly of the time of the martyrdom of the saint; or at least that it was taken from a life by an author almost his cotemporary, and original. But since the first edition of this dissertation it has been observed to me that the thing was by no means certain; that M. Baillet, on the 7th of May, in the critical table of authors, asserts that the life of St. Stanislaus was only written 400 years after his death, from uncertain and mutilated memoirs.

And in the life of the saint he owns that it is only the tradition of the writers of the country which can render credible the account of the resurrection of Pierre.

The Abbé Fleuri, tom. xiii. of the Ecclesiastical History, l. 62, year 1079, does not agree either to what is written in that life or to what has followed it. At any rate, the miracle of the resurrection of Pierre is related as certain in a discourse of John de Polemac, delivered at the Council of Constance, 1433; tom. xii. Councils, p. 1397.

One thought on “St Stanislaus and the dead man in his grave

  1. Darrell Wright

    Besides the great miracle, there are two other things that are striking and very instructive:
    1. It is better to be dead than to live and commit sin: “Stanislaus asked Pierre if he wished to remain alive to do penance. He thanked him, and said he would not anew expose himself to the danger of sinning.”

    2. We see an example of the truth of Christ’s words in the parable of the rich man Divus and Lazarus: “If they do not believe Moses [God’s commandments] and the prophets [the need for repentance], neither will they believe if one were to rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

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