THE Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby and its Parish Church of St Mary have been associated with the legendary vampire Count Dracula ever since Bram Stoker first made the link in his novel published in 1897.
Over the years, those who oversee the opening of the church have explained to enquiring tourists that the Count is fiction, and thus is not buried in the graveyard. But, earlier this month, tempers frayed, and the church has now pinned up a notice requesting visitors to stop asking for directions to his grave.
“It has got particularly bad recently: we have had some quite aggressive behaviour,” the Team Rector of Whitby, the Revd Michael Gobbett, said. “It’s something we have always had to live with because of the story, but we put that poster up because a member of staff had suffered some very strong and upsetting verbal abuse. She was taken aback at the strength of the language. The person didn’t believe that Dracula was not true.” The notice reads: ‘Please do not ask staff where Dracula’s grave is as there isn’t one. Thank you.”
Fr Gobbett continued: “I wonder if people expect us to make more of the story, but that’s not really compatible with being a church. Perhaps they expect us to provide some sort of tourist attraction. We have to accept that it’s part of Whitby’s culture: Bram Stoker was inspired by Whitby Abbey and the church; so it does attract people, but we are trying to get across to people what is the real purpose of St Mary’s.”
Fr Gobbett, who has been at Whitby since 2016, said that he was no longer surprised that people believe the Dracula story is true. “It sort of goes with the job of being Rector here,” he said. “On the whole, we tolerate it; we try to tell them what the situation is, and usually it can be done in a pretty friendly way, but, sadly, just recently we have had an increase in a fair bit of verbal aggression, I don’t know why — perhaps they think we are trying to hide something.”
The real Count Dracula is said to be the 15th-century Romanian warlord Vlad Tepes, known as Vlad the Impaler, who is buried at Snagov Monastery, near Bucharest.
Enquiries have dropped since the poster went up. “A lot of people find it quite amusing — or are mystified — that some might think there is a grave here,” Fr Gobbett said. “Its just one of the things we live with, when what we want to live with is what St Mary’s really stands for.”