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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Immurement is a form of execution where a person is walled up within a building and left to die from starvation or dehydration. This is distinct from being buried alive, in which the victim typically dies of asphyxiation.



Immurement was practiced in Mongolia as recently as the early 20th century. Maud de Braose was immured and starved to death, along with her son William, by the English king John Lackland, as punishment for her indiscreet public reference to his murder of his nephew, and rightful heir to the throne, Prince Arthur.

Legend and folklore

According to Finnish legends, a young maiden was wrongfully immured into the castle wall of Olavinlinna as a punishment for treason. The subsequent growth of a rowan tree at the location of her execution, whose flowers were as white as her innocence and berries as red as her blood, inspired a ballad. Similar legends stem from Haapsalu, Kuressaare, Põlva and Visby.

The folklore of many Southeastern European peoples refers to immurement as the mode of death for the victim sacrificed during the completion of a construction project, such as a bridge or fortress. Many Bulgarian and Romanian folk songs describe a bride offered for such purposes, and her subsequent pleas to the builders to leave her hands and breasts free, that she might still nurse her child. Later versions of the songs revise the bride's death; her fate to languish, entombed in the stones of the construction, is transmuted to her nonphysical shadow, and its loss yet leads to her pining away and eventual death.

Other variations include the Hungarian folk ballad "Kőmíves Kelemen" (Kelemen the Stonemason). This is the story of twelve unfortunate stonemasons tasked with building the fort of Déva (a real building). To remedy its recurring collapses, it is agreed that one of the builders must sacrifice his bride, and the bride to be sacrificed will be she who first comes to visit. In some versions of the ballad the victim is shown some mercy; rather than being trapped alive she is burned and only her ashes are immured. A similar Romanian legend, also mixing truth and fancy, tells of the fictional architect Meşterul Manole, who must sacrifice his wife to build the Curtea de Argeş Monastery (a real building).

A Greek story "The Bridge of Arta" (Template:Lang-el) describes numerous failed attempts to build a bridge in that city. A cycle whereby a team of skilled builders toils all day only to return the next morning to find their work demolished is eventually ended when the master mason's wife is immured.

By popular legend, Anarkali was immured between two walls by order of Moghal Emperor Akbar for having a relationship with crown prince Salim (later Emperor Jehangir)


For alleged treachery, Ugolino della Gherardesca and his sons and grandsons were immured in the Torre dei Gualandi in the thirteenth century. Dante mentions the Ghibelline Pisan leader in the ninth circle of hell in his Divine Comedy.

This form of death appears in several of Edgar Allan Poe's works, including "The Cask of Amontillado." Montresor, the narrator, immures his enemy, Fortunato, within the catacombs beyond the wine cellar under his palazzo. In "The Black Cat," the narrator's pet cat accidentally suffers immurement, but is discovered and rescued. The cat's rescue leads to the discovery of the narrator's wife's body, since the cat was walled in with it after the murder.

Antigone, the heroine of the eponymous play by Sophocles, is sentenced to execution by being placed in a cave and having the exits covered with stones.

In The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde it is implied that Sir Simon was immured by his wife's brothers after having killed his wife. When speaking to little Virginia Otis, the ghost remarks, "I don't think it was very nice of her brothers to starve me to death." His skeleton is found chained to the wall in a secret room of Canterville Chase.

In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe died after being accidentally sealed in a cave. His corpse is discovered later when the cave is reopened.

In Giuseppe Verdi's Aida, Radames is sealed in a vault at the Temple of Vulcan as punishment for treason. His lover Aida, without his knowledge, has hidden herself in the vault so they can die together. Aida dies as the tomb is being sealed, with Radames awaiting his own death after the final curtain.

In Anthony Horowitz's novel Scorpia, the protagonist, Alex Rider is locked in an underground death cell underneath the Widow's Palace after the first confrontation with Nile. It soon becomes apparent to Alex that he will die by drowning by means of water from the Venetian lagoon, which is flooding in through the floor of the cell. Alex manages to escape through a rotting floorboard and is subsequently forced by will alone to swim through the underground well to safety.

Popular culture

In Robert Graves' I, Claudius, Antonia starves her daughter, Livilla, in her locked bedroom, rather than allowing her to be executed in public.

A twist on the Poe story was the September 22, 1971, episode of Rod Serling's TV series Night Gallery, titled "The Merciful". An old woman (Imogene Coca) appears to be sealing her husband (King Donovan) in the basement behind a brick wall she is building, while he sits passively in a rocking chair. She assures him it is "really much better this way," that she is "doing this for your own good." When she finishes the wall, the old man gets up and walks upstairs to the main floor of the house. His wife has sealed herself in. This was later parodied in the Toby Keith music video for 'It's a Little Too Late.'

On the HBO series Oz, an inmate who was a preacher (Luke Perry) is sealed inside a brick wall by some inmates, but is discovered later by prison personnel.

In an Angel (TV series) episode, one of the main characters, Cordelia Chase, moves into an apartment haunted by the ghost of the original tenant, who suffered a fatal heart attack immediately after bricking her grown son behind a wall.

In the 1991 revival of Dark Shadows, while thrown into the past, vampire Barnabas instructs his servant, Ben Loomis to immure Rev. Trask once he has signed a statement that Victoria Winters (who has also been thrown into the past) is innocent of the charge of being a witch.

In the San-Antonio novel Faut être logique (Let's be logical), French novelist Frédéric Dard tells of a haunted house where the ghostly moans were from a man immured in a farmhouse for several years, who survived on grain leaking from a nearby silo and a leaking water pipe.

Baron Harkonnen of the Dune series at one point has built a secret retreat, the transparent walls of which contain the decaying bodies of the construction crew who built it.

In the David Eddings novel The Ruby Knight, the character Bellina is immured in a tower at the home of her brother, Count Ghasek. Bellina is loosely based on Elizabeth Báthory.

In the first chapter of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, one of the main character's ancestors, Sir Quackly McDuck, accidentally seals himself in his castle in the attempt to protect Clan McDuck's treasure.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Immurement" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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