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'The Walled-up Wife' - 2

Previously on the story of “The Walled-up Wife” in Hungary

We left the previous article about the ballad of “Komuves Kelemen” by asking, Why tell this tale? Why would twenty-first century people be interested in a story that seems to be talking about a woman being sacrificed so that a building may stand? Are there no feminists in Hungary who could raise their voices against such a story being told and retold? Is the story about the woman? Is it about the men? Is it about the building? Is it about the act of construction? Could it be about them all? Or could it have another message hidden among the words?

Here’s what we think about it:

A story that talks of partners becoming victims of each other's ambitions gives reason to pause, yet we believe that as long as Hungarians are driven by the desire to accomplish something outstanding in their lives (even by paying a very high price for it), “The ballad of Mason Clement” (Komuves Kelemen balladaja) will keep its popularity in this country. Humans everywhere are fueled by the satisfaction that comes from a job well done, from a creation that has value for generations; and such a creation reassures them that their sacrifices, their struggles, and their efforts—their life's work—were not in vain. And we think that it is the portrayal of this drive, among others, that contributes to the story's appeal to twenty-first century Hungarians.

If we follow the fate of the wife or the master mason and his coworkers, we will witness lives ended in tragedy, but if we consider the walls erected—as "identified" in the ballad—we find that “they are still around”: the fortress of Deva, in Transylvania, Romania. This building then, to which the ballad/legend is linked is—or can be considered to be—the symbol of a human's capability to overcome great difficulties caused by the unknown—his or her ability to create something extraordinary, even though through great sacrifices. While there are numerous elements in the ballad that deserve attention, we believe that it is this message of victory of the human above "superhuman" circumstances that causes this ballad to still enjoy popularity in modern-day Hungary.

It is in creation that we humans can become Godlike, thus creation is a sacred act requiring a sacrifice. In a country where people make great sacrifices (even only for their daily bread), we look up to the hero who was capable of accomplishing something that most of us could not. Even if in ruins, the building named in the ballad can still be found at the site mentioned in the narrative; in Transylvania/Romania there still are records or tombstones that mention the name of a master mason called Kelemen; and people are still concerned about the price they pay for accomplishing an act, for performing a job, or for creating something extraordinary.

We trust that the motif in “Komuves Kelemen” will live on for years to come, since there are many who are driven to create, to overcome their fear of the unknown, to conquer an unseen enemy, or to win a cash prize.

Adaptation from
Bencze, Iren. “The Walled-up Wife”: In Search of Meaning in the Perpetuation of the Ballads Komuves Kelemen and Mesterul Manole. Logan, UT, USA: Utah State University, 2004.


Images from the 'Komuves Kelemen' musical performed by the Military Group (Honved Egyuttes), Budapest

'Komuves Kelemen' musical on CD from Flaccus Publishing bookstore

'Komuves Kelemen' lyrics -- 13 out of the 16 tracks

The cornerstone: a substitute for the old practice of immuring a living person in the walls?


More on this subject coming up in subsequent articles.
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