Immurement, or the complete enclosure of a human being into a small space with no escape, was historically a common form of punishment across cultures throughout history. Indeed, history is full terrifying tales of people who were bricked up or buried alive. Enclosing a person into a tiny box was considered one of the slowest forms of torture. However, some immurements were a deliberate personal choice, particularly among the devout of several religions, such as priests, monks, and nuns.
Trapping someone in a tight space was also one of the forms of torture used on women in particular. These immurements might last weeks, months, years, or until death. Some among the immured were sacrificial; some were unwitting victims. Certainly, in horrific stories of historical immurement, anyone even slightly claustrophobic would have struggled immensely and, as time passed and food and energy diminished, immurement must have seemed like a particularly harsh hell. If you want to know what it was like to suffocate slowly in an enclosed space, read on to get a taste of what it was like to be immured and left for dead.
Immurement Did Not Necessarily Mean Death – Unless They Forgot About Leaving You There
Many cases involving immurement were doled out to intentionally serve as very slow death penalties. However, immurement could also be a temporary condition which was used in one of two ways: as a form of punishment or by choice for a given length of time. The medieval Christian church used temporary immurement as a method to punish sinners, particularly those who committed sins of the flesh. Such individuals were locked away deep in a monastery or bricked up inside of rooms with a tiny opening for food and water for months or even years.
Centuries later, this type of immurement was still being used, but as a form of punishment. A good example comes from the unfortunate end of James Hepburn, third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was accused of treason and other high crimes. He fled Scotland, but was apprehended in Denmark where they imprisoned him beneath Dragsholm Castle, outside of Copenhagen. He was put in a hole that was not large enough for him to stand in, tossed scraps of food, chained, and in complete darkness.
The Danish considered his case for a time, but eventually, as politics changed, Hepburn was forgotten. Five years later, they remembered Hepburn and observed that he was more like a wild animal than a human. Snarling, crawling, and pacing back and forth on his chain, Hepburn died shortly after the observation.
Some cases of immurement had willing participants. Christian monks and anchoresses (a type of nun) participated in immurement as a spiritual experience. They would choose the method, location, and length of time involved. Some remained silent, others wrote music (such as Hildegaard of Bingen), and a few wrote religious texts and testaments.
The Perfect Punishment For Lustful Vestal Virgins
Ancient Roman religion was taken seriously by its leaders, practitioners, and even the secular government. As with most societies, there was also an ongoing concern over the chastity of women and how a woman’s natural lust was overwhelming and thus, had to be controlled. Vestal Virgins, or female temple priestesses of the goddess Vesta (goddess of hearth and home), were held to a particularly high standard of conduct. All took a solemn vow of chastity.
However, the priestesses were human, and sometimes faltered. This was not a problem unless their “lustful” activities were discovered. On such occasions, a guilty priestess received capital punishment. This most often took the form of permanent immurement.
The Vestal Virgin would be stripped, beaten, dressed in the clothing of a corpse, and then placed in a catacomb or cave. Typically, she would be locked or bricked away with a small supply of food, water, and candles or lamps. She might share her immurement with skeletons of previous residents.
Holy Women Liked Being Bricked Up With Little Boys Or Girls
These immurements were pitched as a type of religious ritual, but they were more a case of “misery loves company.” An adult holy woman, such as Julian of Norwich, would sometimes request to be bricked in for a time (decades were not unusual) with a young child under the age of ten. Such children could be orphans, but often were “gifts” from their parents to the Church. The idea was that the child would serve as a symbol of innocence and purity, as well as a companion to the willingly immured. What an awful way to grow up.
The nun and her “companion” would receive food through a small slit in the bricked up wall, but they would never, ever go outside the enclosed chamber. There is no known record of any child surviving such an experience. Probably not something the Church would want the public to know either way.
Clerics Who Molested Boys Were Starved To Death In A Suspended Coffin
In 1409, four Christian clerics in Augsburg, Bavaria, were found guilty of pederasty, or sexual conduct with young boys. Pederasty was not only considered immoral, but also illegal. The traditional method of punishment for the offense was immolation (death by burning). The four clerics in question must have been super special sex criminals because the church in Augsburg decided that immolation was too merciful – instead, they locked the guilty men into wooden coffins, suspended them with ropes from high inside a tower, and left them to starve.
Bodies Trapped In A Wall For Entertainment Purposes
Jazzar Pasha was a notorious 18th century governor of Lebanon and Palestine. He was known for committing unspeakable cruelties to anyone who angered him. At some point during his rule, he decided to build a new wall around the city of Beirut. And not just any wall – he wanted a structure that was strong, decorative, and entertaining. To that end, he captured a great many Greek Christians and had them essentially built into the wall.
The heads of the Christians were left outside while their bodies became part of the wall. And so, Jazzar Pasha and his friends were able to watch his victims suffer, starve, and die. Their skulls remained as a type of decor.
King Richard II Of England Was Bricked Up
King Richard II of England ruled during the age in which Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his famous Canterbury Tales. It was a time of chivalry and Richard’s court was considered one of beauty and fashion. He was so interested in beauty, art, and culture that he lost track of political situations in his country.
Richard was deposed by a powerful rival. Having lost his crown, he was sent off to a castle where he was locked in a room for a few months, where he starved to death. Apparently, his murderers felt immurement was the best method to rid themselves of the former king, since starvation would not show any marks or damage to the body.
Slaves And Family Members Were Sacrificially Immured
Ancient cultures are full of examples of sacrificial immurement. Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs like King Tut have funeral art accurately portraying the immurement of royal servants and attendants. The first emperor of the Chinese Qin Dynasty made sure to immure his many concubines when he was buried in 102 BCE. Just in case anyone thought about escaping or sneaking in, he also immured every craftsman who worked to build his tomb.
The burial of a great Mongol Khan included the ritual killings of more than 100 members of his family, followed by his interment and the immurement of several favorite slaves, both male and female. He kindly remembered to request that the slaves be buried with several vessels of drink. Such a nice guy.
People Were Immured Into Building Foundations As A Good Luck Charm
When you’ve created something you’re proud of, you want to make sure it has the good luck to last forever. Such was the thinking of those who immured people – including children – in the foundations of a building. Especially under the cornerstone. It was a good luck charm sort of thing.
Some ancient cultures scaled back their approach and went with the “immurement” of amphorae of olive oil or grains as a symbol of the source of their sustenance. Others sacrificed livestock and birds, burying the bodies beneath a foundation afterwards. However, a handful of cultures took the final step and involved human immurement as part of their dedication of a new structure.
There was a Serbian tradition where a building project may not progress until the wife of one of the owners of the new building was immured into the foundation. The Magyars give a similar legendary account of the building of the city of Deva, where the goodwill of the landowning spirit was obtained by means of sacrificing the wife of one of the builders. An old Romanian ballad tells the story of a master mason in charge of building a church, and how his young wife was chosen as the immurement sacrifice in the church foundation.
Writers Have Used Fictional Immurement To Enhance Stories
It’s well known that the human mind and creativity are boundless, so it’s no surprise that writers have used fictional examples of immurement to make their stories more exciting and frightening. The Ancient Greek playwright, Sophocles, is one of the first to use immurement in fiction. His heroine, Antigone, and her lover are imprisoned in a cave with the opening bricked shut. They eventually killed themselves, so their immurement was tragic, but brief.
Dante certainly could not resist using immurement in his Divine Comedy. In Inferno’s ninth circle, the father of the Italian language has one of his greatest enemies and his two sons immured in a tower. British Romantic author, Walter Scott, delights in the immurement of an unchaste nun in his poem, “Marmion.” He writes, “And now the blind old abbot rose, To speak the chapter’s doom. On those the wall was to enclose, Alive, within the tomb.”
Edgar Allan Poe relies on immurement several times in his work, including the immurement of a protagonist’s enemy beneath the floor of a pallazzo. In Poe’s “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.
Infants Were Abandoned And Immured
In some cases, immurement was the cause of death for infants. Bricking up or enclosing a wall or entrance wasn’t even necessary, since little babies are unable to attempt escape. But why would anyone immure a newborn? Some answers include: poverty, fear, and shame.
Very poor families could not afford another mouth to fed, so infants were left in abandoned buildings, caves, or even in churches. An illegitimate birth instilled fear and shame in the hearts of some women, who hid away their newborns in similar places. Some of these women included nuns, who had become “lustful” (and pregnant) with the child of a lover, who was likely a priest or monk. In some cases the nun became pregnant from rape or clerical sexual abuse.
Whatever the reason, babies were abandoned in catacombs, cloisters, cisterns, and cells. They were left to die, their only crime existence.
Young Maidens Were Lowered Into Cisterns As A Human Sacrifice
The Festival of the Sun is the most important religious celebration in Ancient Inca culture. It was a major event during ancient times that lasted for nine days and was filled with colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to thank the gods for a good harvest. Music was played and the people shared food.
Following the arrival of the Christian Spaniards in the 16th century, the festival was banned for many years. While the Spaniards were determined to convert the Inca people to Catholicism by whatever means necessary, perhaps one of their reasons for banning the festival was the tradition of human sacrifice by immurement. After performing certain ceremonial duties, a number of young maidens, around twelve years of age, were lowered into a waterless cistern and sealed within it.