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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 a premature burial, where the victim typically dies of asphyxiation.

In 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. [1]

Similar legends are known (e.g., from Haapsalu, Kuressaare, Põlva and Visby).

The folklore of many Southeastern European peoples refer 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.

Please see: Моллов, Тодор (14 August 2002). "Троица братя града градяха" (in Bulgarian). LiterNet. http://liternet.bg/publish/tmollov/troica.htm. Retrieved 2007-05-19. 
Examples of Bulgarian songs: Three Brothers Were Building a Fortress recorded near Smolyan, Immured Bride recorded in Struga.)

Other variations include the Hungarian folk ballad "Kőmíves Kelemen" (Kelemen the Stonemason). This tale relates the story of 12 unfortunate stonemasons tasked with building the (real) fort called Déva. To remedy its recurrent 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. Some versions of the ballad treat her relatively kindly by burning her before building her ashes into the wall, rather than walling her up alive.

A similar Romanian legend, also mixing truth and fantasy, tells of the fictional architect Meşterul Manole, who must sacrifice his wife to build the real Curtea de Argeş Monastery.

A parallel Greek story (Greek: Το Γεφύρι της Άρτας, English: The Bridge of Arta) describes numerous failed attempts to build a bridge in the city of Arta. A cycle whereby a team of skilled builders toiled all day only to return the next morning to find their work demolished was eventually ended when the master mason's wife was immured.

Recreation of a 16th century knight supposedly immured in a wall of Kuressaare Castle, Estonia.

In literature

For alleged treachery, Ugolino della Gherardesca and his sons and grandsons were supposedly 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.

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 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".[2] An old woman (Imogene Coca) appears to be sealing her husband (King Donavan) 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. 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 the San-Antonio novel «Faut être logique» (”Let's be logical”), French novelist Frédéric Dard tells of a haunted house where the ghost 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.

In The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde it is implied that the ghost of 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.

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.

See also








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