The Entombed Child
Surely there can be no greater horror than being entombed alive. Yet, this ritual was performed regularly in European countries, especially Germany, as the immurement of a living person in a wall or the foundation was thought to give a building invincibility, good luck, and protection from evil. Even children were used for these barbaric sacrifices.
There are a couple of well-known cases in Germany. The small village of Vestenberg, 2 1/2 hours from Ansbach, is picturesque with its hills and forests, yet remnants of the Middle Ages remains. Surrounded by a deep moat, traces of the ancient towers of Vestenberg Castle are still visible. The castle, once owned by the Vestenbergs, one of the wealthiest noble families of Franconia, was magnificent, and built to withstand the fiercest attack.
Vestenberg Castle, however, harbored a dark history. The mason who built the castle added a seat in the wall, and a child was placed on the seat to be sealed inside for all eternity. It’s said that the child cried hideously as the mason completed his work. To pacify the young victim, he gave the child a beautiful red apple.
The child was supposedly the illegitimate son of an unmarried woman. She had sold the child for a large sum of money. After the mason had finished his grim work, it’s said that he slapped the woman hard in the face, saying: “It would have been better if you had begged your way throughout the country with your child.”
Vestenberg isn’t the only place where this tradition occurred. In what’s now Austrian Weitersfelden, nobleman Christoph von Haim rebuilt his castle, Burg Reichenstein, in the late 1560s. On June 6, 1571, he was assassinated. The killer was a farmer who was convinced that von Haim had abducted his missing son and immured him at the foundation of Reichenstein.
One of the tales from present day Germany involves the castle in Thuringia. A mother sold her child to be interred in the castle foundations, and the child 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.
Churches also often followed the tradition.
When the people wanted to build a church in Vilmnitz, shortly after Christianity was introduced to the area, they had a difficult time raising the walls.
The builders swore that they could not complete their job, because whatever work they did during the day was destroyed during the night by the Devil.
They decided to purchase a child to entomb in the building in order to end their crisis. After they found a suitable victim, they put a bread-roll in one of the child’s hands, a light in the other, and set the unfortunate youngster in a cavity in the foundation. They quickly mortared it shut, certain that the Devil could no longer disrupt the building’s progress.
It’s also said that a child was entombed in the church at Bergen under similar circumstances.
Unfortunately, there have been many such cases of immurement throughout history.
© 2004 Bobette Bryan