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Title: Immurement  
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Subject: Capital punishment, Premature burial, Giulia Tofana, Torre dei Gualandi, Fateh Singh (Sikhism)
Collection: Causes of Death, Execution Methods
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Immurement (from Latin im- "in" and mūrus "wall"; literally "walling in") is a form of imprisonment, usually for life, in which a person is, for example, locked within an enclosed space and all possible exits turned into impassable walls.[1] This includes instances where people have been enclosed in extremely tight confinement, such as within a coffin. When used as a means of execution, the prisoner is simply left to die from starvation or dehydration. This is distinct from being buried alive, in which the victim typically dies of asphyxiation.

Some examples of immurement as an established executional practice (with death from thirst or starvation as the intended aim) are attested. Roman Vestal Virgins could face immurement as punishment if they broke their vows of chastity and immurement has been well-established as a punishment of robbers in Persia, even into the early 20th century. Some ambiguous evidence exists of immurement as a practice of coffin-type confinement in Mongolia.

However, isolated incidents of immurement, rather than elements of continuous traditions, are attested or alleged from numerous parts of the world as well, and some of these notable incidents are included. Instances of immurement as an element of massacre within the context of war or revolution are also noted. Immuring living persons as a type of human sacrifice is also reported, for example as part of grand burial ceremonies in some cultures.

As a motif in legends and folklore, many tales of immurement exist. In the folklore, immurement is prominent as a form of capital punishment, but its use as a type of human sacrifice to make buildings sturdy has many tales attached to it as well. Skeletal remains have been, from time to time, found behind walls and in hidden rooms and on several occasions have been asserted to be evidence of such sacrificial practices or of such a form of punishment.


  • History 1
    • Method of execution 1.1
      • Established practice 1.1.1
      • Incidents in war 1.1.2
      • Notable incidents 1.1.3
    • Human sacrifice 1.2
      • Entombed with the deceased 1.2.1
      • Other types of human sacrifice 1.2.2
    • Asceticism/Religious practice 1.3
      • Incluses 1.3.1
      • Vade in pace 1.3.2
      • Japanese suicide tradition 1.3.3
  • Legend and folklore 2
    • Punishments in folklore 2.1
    • Human sacrifice when constructing buildings 2.2
    • Quarantine 2.3
    • Immured skeletons 2.4
  • Cultural references until 19th century 3
    • Antiquity to Middle Ages 3.1
    • 19th century 3.2
  • Cultural references, 20th and 21st centuries 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • See also 7


Method of execution

There exists a distinction between a form of execution established as a tradition, for example as crystallized into formal law on the one hand, and isolated incidents of executions of that type that cannot be said to be part of a tradition. In this section, that distinction is followed. Furthermore, incidents at war time are kept distinct.

Established practice

Vestal Virgins in Ancient Rome

The Vestal Virgins in Ancient Rome constituted a class of priestesses whose principal duty was to maintain the sacred fire dedicated to Vesta (goddess of the home and the family), and they lived under a strict vow of chastity and celibacy. If that vow of chastity was broken, the offending priestess was immured alive as follows:[2]

When condemned by the college of pontifices, she was stripped of her vittae and other badges of office, was scourged, was attired like a corpse, placed in a close litter, and borne through the forum attended by her weeping kindred, with all the ceremonies of a real funeral, to a rising ground called the Campus Sceleratus. just within the city walls, close to the Colline gate. There a small vault underground had been previously prepared, containing a couch, a lamp, and a table with a little food. The pontifex maximus, having lifted up his hands to heaven and uttered a secret prayer, opened the litter, led forth the culprit, and placing her on the steps of the ladder which gave access to the subterranean cell, delivered her over to the common executioner and his assistants, who conducted her down, drew up the ladder, and having filled the pit with earth until the surface was level with the surrounding ground, left her to perish deprived of all the tributes of respect usually paid to the spirits of the departed

The order of the Vestal Virgins existed for about 1,000 years, but only about 10 effected immurements are attested in extant sources.[3]

Immurement in Persia

A tradition existed in Persia of walling up criminals and leaving them to die of hunger or thirst. The traveler M. A. Hume-Griffith stayed in Persia from 1900 to 1903, and she wrote the following:[4]

Another sad sight to be seen in the desert sometimes, are brick pillars in which some unfortunate victim is walled up alive...The victim is put into the pillar, which is half built up in readiness; then if the executioner is merciful he will cement quickly up to the face, and death comes speedily. But sometimes a small amount of air is allowed to permeate through the bricks, and in this case the torture is cruel and the agony prolonged. Men bricked up in this way have been heard groaning and calling for water at the end of three days

Travelling back and forth to Persia from 1630 to 1668 as a gem merchant, Jean Baptiste Tavernier observed much the same custom that Mrs. Hume-Griffith noted some 250 years later. Tavernier notes that immuring was principally a punishment for thieves, and that immurement left the convict's head out in the open. According to him, many of these unfortunate individuals would implore passersby to cut off their heads, an amelioration of the punishment forbidden by law.[5] John Fryer,[6] travelling Persia in the 1670s writes the following:[7]

From this Plain to Lhor, both in the Highways, and on the high Mountains, were frequent Monuments of Thieves immured in Terror of others who might commit the like Offence; they having literally a Stone-Doublet, whereas we say metaphorically, when any is in Prison, He has it Stone Doublet on; for these are plastered up, all but their Heads, in a round Stone Tomb, which are left out, not out of kindness, but to expose them to the Injury of the Weather, and Assaults of the Birds of Prey, who wreak their Rapin with as little Remorse, as they did devour their Fellow-Subjects.

Staying as a diplomat in Persia from 1860–63, E. B. Eastwick met at one time, the Sardar i Kull, or military high commander Aziz Khan. Eastwick notes that he "did not strike me as one who would greatly err on the side of leniency". Eastwick was told that just recently, Aziz Khan had ordered 14 robbers walled up alive, two of them head downwards.[8] Staying for the year 1887–1888 primarily in Shiraz, Edward Granville Browne noted the gloomy reminders of a particularly bloodthirsty governor there, Firza Ahmed, who in his four years of office (ending about 1880), had caused, for example, more than 700 hands cut off for various offences. Browne continues:[9]

Besides these minor punishments, many robbers and others suffered death; not a few were walled up alive in pillars of mortar, there to perish miserably. The remains of these living tombs may still be seen outside Derwaze-i-kassah-khane ("Slaughter-house Gate") at Shiraz, while another series lines the road as it enters the little town of Abade...
A Mongolian woman condemned to die of immurement, c. 1913

Immurement was practiced in Mongolia as recently as the early 20th century. It is not necessarily clear that all thus immured were meant to die of starvation, though. In a newspaper report from 1914, it is written:[10]

..the prisons and dungeons of the Far Eastern country contain a number of refined Chinese shut up for life in heavy iron-bound coffins, which do not permit them to sit upright or lie down. These prisoners see daylight for only a few minutes daily when the food is thrown into their coffins through a small hole

Incidents in war

Massacres, and grotesque ways of killing people, are very well attested from the tense times of war, including immurement.

Neo-Assyrian vengeance

The Neo-Assyrian Empire is renowned for its brutal repression techniques, not the least because several of its rulers congratulated themselves upon the vengeance they wreaked by going into detail of how they dealt with their enemies. Here is a commemoration Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 BC) made that includes immurement:[11]

I erected a wall in front of the great gate of the city. I flayed the chiefs and covered this wall with their skins. Some of them were walled in alive in the masonry; others were impaled along the wall. I flayed a great number of them in my presence, and I clothed the wall with their skins. I collected their heads in the form of crowns, and their corpses I pierced in the shape of garlands..My figure blooms on the ruins; in the glutting of my rage I find my content
Revolution at Corfu

In book 3 of his History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides goes into great detail on the revolution that broke out at Corfu in 427 BC. Book 3, Chapter 81, passage 5 reads as follows:[12]

Death thus raged in every shape; and, as usually happens at such times, there was no length to which violence did not go; sons were killed by their fathers, and suppliants dragged from the altar or slain upon it; while some were even walled up in the temple of Dionysus and died there.

Notable incidents

The execution of Livilla

Livilla, a member of the imperial dynasty under Emperor Tiberius, was condemned in AD 31 for being complicit in the plot Sejanus staged to overthrow the emperor. According to Cassius Dio, Tiberius handed Livilla over to her mother, Antonia Minor, who locked her own daughter in the bedroom, ensuring that she starved to death.[13]

Death of an emperor

Flavius Basiliscus, emperor in the Eastern Roman Empire from AD 475-476, was deposed. In winter he was sent to Cappadocia with his family, where they were imprisoned in either a dry cistern,[14] or a tower,[15] and perished. The historian Procopius said they died exposed to cold and hunger,[16] while other sources, such as Priscus, merely speaks of death by starvation.[17]

The wily princesses from Sindh

Dahir of Sindh is generally regarded as the last Hindu king of Sindh, being defeated in 712 CE by the Muslim general Muhammad bin Qasim. One of the stories of bin Qasim's fate is that concerning Dahir's daughters Surya Devi and Premala Devi, not yet in their teens at their father's death, but sent to the caliph to be his concubines. In their desire to avenge themselves on bin Qasim, and the enslavement of thousands of their country's women, they convinced the caliph that bin Qasim had had intercourse with them, and in his rage, the caliph ordered bin Qasim executed. Once Surya Devi and Premala Devi discovered that their oppressor had been killed, they told the caliph of their lies to avenge themselves, and happily accepted their ordained fate of being immured in a wall, so that they no longer had to live in dishonour.[18]

The Patriarch and the Doge

The patriarch of Aquileia, Poppo of Treffen (r. 1019–1045) was a mighty secular potentate, and in 1044 he sacked Grado. The newly elected Doge of Venice, Domenico I Contarini, captured him and allegedly let him be buried up to his neck, and left guards to watch over him until he died.[19]


Maud de Braose and her son, William, were imprisoned and starved to death under John, King of England, after Maud accused King John of murdering his nephew. [20]


In 1149 Duke Otto III of Olomouc of the Moravian Přemyslid dynasty immured the abbot Deocar and 20 monks in the refectory in the monastery of Rhadisch, where they starved to death. Ostensibly this was because one of the monks had fondled his wife Duranna when she had spent the night there. However Otto III confiscated the monastery's wealth, and some said this was the motive for the immurement.[21]

Pederasts in the Perlachturm
Perlachturm with St. Peter by Perlach

The actual punishment meted out to men found guilty of pederasty, or of homosexual intercourse might vary between different status groups. In 1532 and 1409 Augsburg two men were burned alive for their offenses; while a rather different procedure was meted out to four clerics in the 1409 case guilty of the same offence: Instead of being burnt alive, they were locked into a wooden casket that was hung up in the Perlachturm and they starved to death in that manner.[22]

Elizabeth Báthory

Hungarian countess, Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian; 7 August 1560 – 21 August 1614) was immured in a set of rooms in 1610 for the death of several girls, with figures being as high as several hundreds, though the actual number of victims is uncertain. Being labelled the most prolific female serial killer in history has earned her the nickname of The Blood Countess, and she is often compared with Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia in folklore. Being similar to that of the asceticism/religious practice, she was allowed to live in immurement until she died 4 years after being sealed, ultimately dying of causes other than starvation.

A fugitive royal family from the Mughal Empire

In the late 1650s, various sons of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan became embroiled in wars of succession, in which Aurangzeb was victorious. One of his half-brothers, Shah Shujah proved particularly troublesome, but in 1661 Aurangzeb defeated him, and Shah Shuja and his family sought the protection of the king of Arakan. According to Francois Bernier, the king reneged on his promise of asylum, and Shuja's sons were decapitated, while his daughters were immured, and died of starvation.[23]

Jezzar Pasha, the tyrant at Beirut

Jezzar Pasha, the Ottoman governor of provinces in modern Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine from 1775 to 1804, was renowned for his cruelties. When building the new walls of Beirut, he was charged, inter alia, with the following:[24]

..and this monster had taken the name of Dgezar (Butcher) as an illustrious addition to his title. It was, no doubt, well deserved; for he had immured alive a great number of Greek Christians when he rebuilt the Walls of Barut..The heads of these miserable victims, which the butcher had left out, in order to enjoy their tortures, are still to be seen
Korea, executed in a rice chest

The Korean king Yeongjo of Joseon (r. 1724–1776) executed his mentally ill son, Crown Prince Sado, in 1762 by locking him up in a huge rice chest. It is said that Sado died of suffocation after eight days.[25]

Moroccan serial killer

In a newspaper clipping from 1906, the fate of a cobbler from Marrakesh who was found guilty of murdering 36 women (the bodies were found buried underneath his shop and in his garden) is recounted. In order to deter others from similar heinous crimes, he was sentenced to be walled up alive. For two days after his immurement his screams were heard incessantly, but from the third day, all was silent from him.[26]

Human sacrifice

Entombed with the deceased

In several cultures, it is attested that living persons were entombed along with a deceased person, as part of the funerary ritual. Some such borderline cases between buried alive and immurement are included here.

Excavations at Ur

In the ancient Sumerian city of Ur some graves (as early as 2500 BC.) clearly show the burial of attendants, along with that of the principal dead person. In one such grave, Gerda Lerner writes:

The human sacrifices were probably first drugged or poisoned, as evidenced by a drinking cup near each body, then the pit was immured, and covered with earth[27]

In 102 BC, the first Ch'in Emperor died, all the imperial concubines and the artisans who had worked on the mausoleum were immured alive alongside with him.[28]

Burial of a Mongol Khan

The 14th century traveller Ibn Batuta observed once the burial of a great khan, and writes the following, pertinent to immurement:[29]

The Khan who had been killed, with about a hundred of his relatives, was then brought, and a large sepulchre was dug for him under the earth, in which a most beautiful couch was spread, and the Khan was with his weapons laid upon it. With him they placed all the gold and silver vessels he had in his house,' together with four female slaves, and six of his favourite Mamluks, with a few vessels of drink. They were then all closed up, and the earth heaped upon them to the height of a large hill.
The Bonny Widows in Africa

Harold Edward Bindloss, in his 1898 non-fiction "In the Niger country" writes the following transpiring when a great chief died:

Only a few years ago, when a powerful headman died not very far from Bonny, several of his wives had their legs broken, and were buried alive with him[30]

Other types of human sacrifice

Sun festival among Incas

Within Inca culture, it is reported that as one element in the great Sun festival was the sacrifice of young maidens (between ten and twelve years old), who after their ceremonial duties done were lowered down in a waterless cistern and were immured alive.[31]

Asceticism/Religious practice


A particularly severe form of asceticism within Christianity is that of incluses, who typically allowed themselves to be immured, and subsisting on minimal food. For example, in the 4th century AD, one nun named "Alexandra immured herself in a tomb for ten years with a tiny aperture enabling her to receive meager provisions...Saint Jerome (ca.340-420) spoke of one follower who spent his entire life in a cistern, consuming no more than five figs a day".[32]

Vade in pace

Immurement of a nun

In Roman Catholic monastic tradition, there existed a type of enforced, lifelong confinement against nuns or monks who had broken their vows of chastity, or espoused heretical ideas, and some have believed that this type of imprisonment was, indeed, a form of immurement. The judgment was preceded by the phrase "vade in pacem", that is, "go into peace", rather than "go in peace". (Latin "in" can be translated to English as either "in" or "into," depending on the case of its object — ablative for "in" or accusative for "into.") As Henry Charles Lea puts it, the tradition seems to have been that of complete, utter isolation from other human beings, but that food was, indeed, provided:[33]

In the case of Jeanne, widow of B. de la Tour, a nun of Lespenasse, in 1246, who had committed acts of both Catharan and Waldensian heresy, and had prevaricated in her confession, the sentence was confinement in a separate cell in her own convent, where no one was to enter or see her, her food being pushed in through an opening left for the purpose—in fact, the living tomb known as the “in pace.”

In the footnote appended to this passage, Lea writes:[34]

The cruelty of the monastic system of imprisonment known as in pace, or vade in pacem, was such that those subjected to it speedily died in all the agonies of despair. In 1350 the Archbishop of Toulouse appealed to King John to interfere for its mitigation, and he issued an Ordonnance that the superior of the convent should twice a month visit and console the prisoner, who, moreover, should have the right twice a month to ask for the company of one of the monks. Even this slender innovation provoked the bitterest resistance of the Dominicans and Franciscans, who appealed to Pope Clement VI., but in vain

Although the "Vade in Pace" tradition therefore seems to one of perpetual, aggravated confinement, but not immurement where the individual was meant to starve to death, several have thought "vade in pace" was just that, a death sentence. For example, Sir Walter Scott, himself an antiquarian, notes in a remark to his poem Marmion (1808):[35]

It is well known, that the religious, who broke their vows of chastity, were subjected to the same penalty as the Roman Vestals in a similar case. A small niche, sufficient to enclose their bodies, was made in the massive wall of the convent ; a slender pittance of food and water was deposited in it and the awful words Vade in pace, were the signal for immuring the criminal. It is not likely that, in latter times, this punishment was often resorted to; but, among the ruins of the abbey of Coldingham were some years ago discovered the remains of a female skeleton which, from the shape of the niche, and the position of the figure seemed to be that of an immured nun

The practice of immuring nuns or monks on breaches of chastity has a long history, and Fransesca Medioli writes the following in her essay "Dimensions of the Cloister":[36]

At Lodi in 1662 Sister Antonia Margherita Limera stood trial for having introduced a man into her cell and entertained him for a few days; she was sentenced to be walled in alive on a diet of bread and water. In the same year, the trial for breach of enclosure and sexual intercourse against the cleric Domenico Cagianella and Sister Vinzenza Intanti of the convent of San Salvatore in Ariano had an identical outcome

Japanese suicide tradition

Emile Durkheim in his work Suicide writes the following about certain followers of Amida Buddha:[37]

The sectarians of Amida have themselves immured in caverns where there is barely space to be seated and where they can breathe only through an air shaft. There they quietly allow themselves to die of hunger.

Legend and folklore

Punishments in folklore

Recreation of a sixteenth-century knight, who was believed to be immured in a wall of Kuressaare Castle, Estonia.
Sweden, Finland and Estonia

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.[38] Similar legends stem from Haapsalu,[39] Kuressaare,[40] Põlva[41] and Visby.[42]


According to a Latvian legend as many as three people might have been immured in tunnels under the Grobiņa Castle. A daughter of a knight living in the castle did not approve of her father's choice of a young nobleman as her future husband. Said knight also pillaged surrounding areas and took prisoners to live in the tunnels, among these a handsome young man whom the daughter took a liking to, helping him escape. Her fate wasn't so lucky as the knight and his son-in-law punished her by immuring her in one of the tunnels. Another nobleman's daughter and a Swedish soldier are also said to be immured in one of the tunnels after she had fallen in love with the Swedish soldier and requested her father to allow her to marry him. According to another legend a maiden and a servant have been immured after a failed attempt at spying on Germans wanting to know what their plans were for what is now Latvia.[43]

Mughal Empire

By popular legend, Anarkali was immured between two walls in Lahore, Pakistan by order of Mughal Emperor Akbar for having a relationship with crown prince Salim (later Emperor Jehangir) in the 16th century. A bazaar developed around the site, and was named Anarkali Bazaar in her honour.[44] Sons of Sikh Guru Gobind Singh During the battle against Wazir Khan Guru Gobind Singh's two elder sons were martyred and the two younger ones aged 9 and 7 were bricked up alive in Wazir Khans Palace

Human sacrifice when constructing buildings

A number of cultures contain tales and ballads containing as a motif the sacrifice of a human being to ensure the strength of a building.

South-Eastern Europe

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. The best-known Serbian version is The Building of Skadar. 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.[45]

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.[46] 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.[47] A similar Romanian legend, also mixing truth and fantasy, tells of the fictional architect Meşterul Manole, who must sacrifice his wife to build the Curtea de Argeş Monastery (a real building).[48]

Greece and Malta

A Greek story "The Bridge of Arta" (Greek: Γεφύρι της Άρτας) 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.[49]

Like many other European folktales, legend has it that a maiden was immured in the walls of Madliena church as a sacrifice or offering after continuous failed attempts at building it. The pastor achieved this by inviting all of the most beautiful maidens to a feast and the most beautiful one, Madaļa, falling into a deep sleep after he'd offered her wine from a "certain goblet".[50]

Germanic culture

The idea that the immurement of a child at the foundation of a fortress would make it invincible was prevalent in German areas as well. In nowadays Austrian Weitersfelden, the noble Christoph von Haim made a great rebuilding of his castle, Burg Reichenstein, in the late 1560s. On 6 June 1571, he was assassinated. Ostensibly, the killer was a farmer who was convinced Christoph von Haim had abducted the farmer's disappeared son, and immured him at the foundations of Reichenstein.[51]

One of the tales from present day Germany concerns the castle,[52] close to the health resort Bad Liebenstein in Thuringia. In this tale, a mother sold her child to be interred in the castle foundations, and the child first cried out: "Mother, I can still see you!". Then, wailing, the fully immured child cried: "Mother, I cannot see you any more!". The mother, overcome with guilt, threw herself off the cliff, her ghost can still be seen, scratching with its fingers at the place where she let her child be immured.[53]

Animal sacrifice

Acknowledging the traditions of human sacrifice in the context of the building of structures within German and Slavic folklore, Jacob Grimm proffers some examples of the sacrifice of animals as well. According to him, within Danish traditions, a lamb was immured under an erected altar in order to preserve it, while a churchyard was to be ensured protection by immuring a living horse as part of the ceremony. In the ceremonies of erection of other types of constructions, Grimm notices that other animals were sacrificed as well, such as pigs, hens and dogs.[54]



There exist legends that the residents of Mary King's Close in Edinburgh had been immured, and left to perish during an outbreak of the plague, however, this is considered to be untrue.

Immured skeletons

In several places, immured skeletons have been found in buildings and ruins. Many of these finds have been asserted, at one time or another, to be evidence of a historical practice in consonance with the tales and legends of sacrificing human beings when constructing a building, or as being the remains of persons punished by immurement, or possibly, victims of murder.

Thornton Abbey
Ruins of Thornton Abbey

In the ruins of Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire, an immured skeleton was found behind a wall; along with a table, book and a candlestick. By some, he is believed to be the fourteenth abbot, immured for some terrible crime committed by him.[55]

Castle in Dublin

In 1755, it is reported that in a castle belonging to the Duke of Dorset, the skeleton of a man was found behind the wall of a servant's room. No clothes were found, but a seal with a religious inscription was found, and the skeleton had a pair of wooden clogs on the feet. The author discusses the possibility of the person having been some sort of state prisoner immured, but opts for him being the victim of murder instead.[56]

Cesvaine Palace, Latvia
Cesvaine Palace

In 1778, when some reconstruction was done at Cesvaine Palace, a skeleton in a woman's dress was found behind a wall. Old people assured the visitor August Hupel that she had been immured alive at the building of the castle, but Hupel regarded the whole story as rather fanciful, and remained skeptical.[57]

The immured knight in Tiefburg, Handschuhsheim

In 1770, a macabre find was made in the medieval castle Tiefburg in what is now a quarter of Heidelberg, then the village of Handschusheim.[58] Going down a winding stair, the castle owner noticed one wall sounded hollow, and called for a mason to break it open. Inside was a niche that contained a skeleton in full armour; at the opening, it fell together. The helmet still carried traces of gilding, along with several sword strokes. It was assumed that the individual had been defeated in a feud, and had been immured alive at some remote time.[59]

The monk in Malmö

In the 1770s, Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, 1st Baronet toured countries like Sweden and Denmark, and wrote a memoir on his journeys. He was wholly displeased with his visit to Malmö, and said the only thing of interest was that of the skeleton of a monk who had been immured in the church wall. According to tradition, the monk had been found guilty of fornication, and had lived nine days immured, having been fed eggs though a small hole.[60]

Immured coffins of infants

In 1686 Bremen, when a 132-year-old city gate was rebuilt, a tiny coffin containing the skeletal remains of a child was found. A century earlier, in 1589, the city walls had been reconstructed. More than 200 years later, in 1812, it was discovered embedded in the walls some 50 tiny oak coffins. These were, however, empty.[61] At Plesse castle, close by Göttingen, a small child coffin with remains was found in the early 19th century. In 1819, when the city walls of Harburg were renewed, a whole series of child coffins were found, just as in the walls of Bremen. The coffins in Harburg, however, did contain skeletal remains. Several other such finds are attested.[62]

Cultural references until 19th century

Antiquity to Middle Ages

Decius orders the walling in of the Seven Sleepers.[63] From a 14th-century manuscript.

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. Both she and her lover Haemon kill themselves, though, after interment.[64]

Seven Sleepers

One version of the legend of the Seven Sleepers alleges that during the persecutions by the Roman emperor Decius, around 250 AD, seven young men were accused of following Christianity. They were given some time to recant their faith, but chose instead to give their worldly goods to the poor and retire to a mountain cave to pray, where they fell asleep. The emperor, seeing that their attitude towards paganism had not improved, ordered the mouth of the cave to be sealed.[63] Others amongst many involve various tales in Christianity and Islam utilizing various cave sites.


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.[65]

19th century

Walter Scott

In his 1808 poem Marmion, Walter Scott has as one of his motifs the immurement of the fictional nun, Clara de Clare , on grounds of unchastity. The stanza XXV reads:

And now the blind old abbot rose, To speak the chapter's doom. On those the wall was to enclose, Alive, within the tomb

Scott, himself an antiquarian, believed that the Catholic Church in earlier times immured monks and nuns found guilty of breaking their vows of chastity, explains his belief in a note appended to the poem.[66]

Edgar Allan Poe

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 body of the narrator's wife, since the cat was walled in with it after the murder.[67]

William Harrison Ainsworth

In the opening of William Harrison Ainsworth's, The Lancashire Witches, John Paslew, the abbot of Whalley, reveals to his confessor that he conspired to have his rival for the position of abbot accused of witchcraft and immured in the walls of the abbey. The confessor then reveals himself to be the former rival, escapes from the immurement by consorting with dark powers, and returns to exact his vengeance on the abbot.

Oscar Wilde

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.[68]

Mark Twain

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.[69]

Giuseppe Verdi

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.[70]

Cultural references, 20th and 21st centuries


The Neue Deutsche Härte band Rammstein made a song about immurement, "Stein um Stein".[71]

The metalcore band Emmure takes its name from the meaning, although alternate spelling is used.


In Robert Graves' I, Claudius, Antonia starves her daughter Livilla in her locked bedroom, rather than allowing her to be executed in public. Graves based I, Claudius on extant Roman sources, so the story may be based in fact.[72]

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.

In the book Sarah's Key, the protagonists younger brother accidentally dies after she leaves him locked in a cupboard when she and her family are rounded up by the French police in Nazi-era France.


In the first season of the Scandinavian television series Bron (Broen), August, the son of one of the lead characters, is murdered by immurement.[73]

A twist on the Poe story was the September 22, 1971 episode of Rod Serling's TV series Night Gallery, titled "The Merciful".[74] 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".

In the episode "Last Exit to Springfield," of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns recalls a childhood memory, where a worker in his grandfather's power plant is found with several atoms in his pockets. As he is dragged away, he foretells the rise of labor unions and Japan's economical and industrial prominence. Burns then remarks "If only we'd listened to that young man... instead of walling him up in the abandoned coke oven."

In a 1984 episode of the children's television series Thomas the Tank Engine, character Henry is immured in a tunnel, behind a brick wall after refusing to leave a tunnel to shelter from the rain.

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.

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

In the television series Supernatural's second season episode "The Usual Suspects", a body was immured behind a wall and its spirit appears as a death omen to warn others of their impending death.

In an episode of Angel, 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.

On the HBO series Game of Thrones, the characters Doreah and Xaro Xhoan Daxos are sealed in an empty vault in Daxos' own villa, after betraying Daenerys and attempting to steal her dragons.


In the Nunsploitation film, The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine, the Inquisitor discovers that the nuns have been engaging in sexual acts, and in punishment orders them to be immured in their Abbey.

In "Raiders of the Lost Ark", Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood are sealed inside the snake-filled Well of Souls by their Nazi captors.

Video games

In the 2001 video game Ico, children born with horns are seen as a bad omen and are immured in sarcophagi within an abandoned castle as a means of sacrifice.


  1. ^ Definition Immurement
  2. ^ Smith, (1846), p.353
  3. ^ Dowling (2001), Vestal Virgins-Chaste keepers of the flame
  4. ^ Hume-Griffith (1909), p.138-139
  5. ^ Tavernier, Phillips (1678), p.233
  6. ^ John Fryer
  7. ^ Fryer (1698), p.318
  8. ^ Eastwick (1864), p.186
  9. ^ Browne (2013), p.117-118
  10. ^ New Zealand Herald (1914), p.7
  11. ^ Kurkijan (2008), p.17
  12. ^ Thucydides, 3.81.5
  13. ^ Varner (2004), p.93-94
  14. ^ Peter Sarris opts for freezing to death, rather than death by starvation Sarris (2011), p.252
  15. ^ Evagrius (2000), p.143, footnote 31
  16. ^ Procopius (2007), p.71
  17. ^ Rohrbacher (2013), p.89
  18. ^ Altekar (1959), p.311
  19. ^ Hübner (1700), p.590
  20. ^ Histoire des Ducs de Normandie et des Rois d'Angleterre, pp.112-5
  21. ^ Wekebrod (1814), p.118-119
  22. ^ Osenbrüggen (1860), p.290
  23. ^ Bernier (1916), p.114-115
  24. ^ de Tott (1786), p.97
  25. ^ 1762: Crown Prince Sado, locked in a rice chest
  26. ^ The St.John (September 8, 1906), p.13
  27. ^ Lerner (1986), p.60
  28. ^ Taylor (2009), p.25
  29. ^ Batuta, Lee (1829), p.220
  30. ^ Bindloss (1898), p.169
  31. ^ French (2000), p.78
  32. ^ O'Reilly (2000), p.180
  33. ^ Lea (2012), p.487
  34. ^ Lea (2012), footnote 444
  35. ^ Scott (1833), p.392
  36. ^ Medioli, Schutte, Kuehn, Menchi (2001), p.170-171
  37. ^ Durkheim (2010), p.224
  38. ^ Olavinlinna Legends
  39. ^ The Immured Lady
  40. ^ The immured knight
  41. ^ "Legend has it that a girl was immured in the wall of the church in a kneeling position and thus the place came to be called Põlva (the Estonian word põlv means knee in English). " Põlva linn
  42. ^ the Maiden's Tower (Jungfrutornet), in which legend has it that the daughter of a Visby goldsmith was walled up alive for betraying the town to the Danes out of love for the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag.Visby Tourist Attractions
  43. ^ Jansone, Una. "Grobiņas pils". Retrieved November 9, 2013. 
  44. ^ On Anarkali legend and tomb, Anarkali's Tomb
  45. ^ Моллов, Тодор (14 August 2002). "Троица братя града градяха" (in Bulgarian). LiterNet. Retrieved 2007-05-19.  Examples of Bulgarian songs: Three Brothers Were Building a Fortress recorded near Smolyan, Immured Bride recorded in Struga.
  46. ^ Called "Clemens" in Eliade, Dundes (1996), p.77
  47. ^ On the sacrifice, with ashes immured, see for example:Mallows (2013), p.219
  48. ^ Tappe (1984), A Rumanian Ballad and its English Adaptation
  49. ^ Eliade, Dundes (1996), p.75-76
  50. ^ Pozemovskis, Kā cēlies Madlienas nosaukums
  51. ^ Generally on Weitersfelden and von Haim's building project, Riepl, Aus der Geschichte von Weitersfelden, on motives for assassination, Chmel (1841), p.9
  52. ^ Burg Liebenstein
  53. ^ Bechstein (1858), p.259-260
  54. ^ Grimm (1854), p.1095
  55. ^ Dodsley (1744), p.103. On suspicion of it being the remains of the fourteenth abbot, Thornton Abbey; and its "immured" Abbot
  56. ^ Urban (1755), p.211
  57. ^ Hupel (1782), p.197
  58. ^ Tiefburg
  59. ^ Schreiber (1811), p.212
  60. ^ Wraxall p.65-66
  61. ^ Miesegaes (1829), p.182-183
  62. ^ Blumenbach, Spangenberg (1828), p.268-282
  63. ^ a b  Fortescue, Adrian (1913). "The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus".  
  64. ^ Sophocles, Burian, Shapiro (2010), p.17
  65. ^ See, for example, Fumagalli (2001), p.94
  66. ^ See both stanza and note at, for example, Scott (1833), p.392
  67. ^ For the Poe stories, see for example, Hayes (2012), p.101
  68. ^ See, for example, Wilde, Murray (1998), p.77
  69. ^ See, for example, relevant excerpt from Twain in Brown (2004), p.14-15
  70. ^ See, for example, Krehbiel (2006), p.156
  71. ^
  72. ^ On fictional character in 1976 television adaptation, see for example, Livilla
  73. ^ Entry at the Internet Movie Database
  74. ^ "The Merciful" at the Internet Movie Database


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See also

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