AskDefine | Define immurement

Dictionary Definition

immurement n : the state of being imprisoned; "he was held in captivity until he died"; "the imprisonment of captured soldiers"; "his ignominious incarceration in the local jail"; "he practiced the immurement of his enemies in the castle dungeon" [syn: captivity, imprisonment, incarceration]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. capital punishment by entombing for life.

Extensive Definition

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.
Similar legends are known (e.g., from Haapsalu, Kuressaare 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 older 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: 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 twelve 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 first burning the bride 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 very 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 would toil all day only to return the next morning to find their work demolished was eventually ended when the master mason's wife was immured.

In literature

For alleged treachery, Ugolino della Gherardesca, as well as 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.
Montresor, the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado," immures his enemy, Fortunato, within the catacombs beyond the wine cellar under his palazzo.
The heroine of the eponymous play by Sophocles, Antigone, 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.
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