The death and the corpse
Negavit Omnipolens breve martyrium.
(Jerome of Udine in AA SS Oct. X: 488)
“Tout ne s'arrête pas avec la mort, mais tout
ne commence pas non plus avec elle.”
(J.-M. Sallmann, Naples el ses saints à I 'âge baroque (Paris. 1994), 285)
The chronicler of the Franciscan order Nicholas Glassberger († after 1508) reproduces in his work the text of an epistle purportedly written by John Capistran concerning the battle of Belgrade and dated 21 July 1456.1 An examination of its contents convinces me that it is apocryphal (and possibly composed by Glassberger himself). The epistle celebrates the victory over the Ottomans, although as the decisive battle for the fortress was fought during the night of 21–22 July, the victory could not properly be claimed before the late afternoon of 22 July. A comparison with Capistran's subsequent letters reveals dissonances in tone and contents; moreover, its author committed a major blunder in alluding to the death of John Hunyadi, who actually died on 11 August.
In actual fact, it was in the evening of “the most glorious day of his life,” 22 July 1456, that Capistran wrote a short account of the victory at Belgrade, addressed to the pope.2 He composed a second, more detailed letter the next day, according to its own date in Slankamen, a Sirmian oppidum on the bank of the Danube.3 He entrusted his letter to Jerome of Padua, together with a “noble boy from Bosnia,” a prisoner of war said to have been born in Turkey and educated at the Sultan's court. The boy, “good-natured and rather intelligent,” was to be presented to the pope as a curious and living testimony of the victory.4 He had already been baptized (by Capistran himself), and as it eventuated, the pope decided to retain his unusual guest, as we learn from a letter of his dated 16 September.5
The rest of July and the greater part of August Capistran spent in Zemun (near Belgrade, on the Sirmian side of the Sava river) and in Slankamen. An epidemic (probably of dysentery) broke out in Belgrade because of the mass